Fires In California: Facts And Useful Information For Kids | Kidadl


Fires In California: Facts And Useful Information For Kids

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Wildfires are one of the most ravaging natural disasters.

Besides causing extensive damage to the environment, the fires affect people's economic and social lives. It also badly impacts human health.

Wildfire can be classified as a bushfire, grassfire, hill fire, desert fire, forest fire, veld fire, prairie fire, or peat fire, depending on the kind of natural vegetation in the region. Whatever the kind, these uncontrolled, unplanned fires are a major cause of concern. Wildfires have claimed several lives and caused damages worth billions of dollars in several countries, including the U.S, Canada, Portugal, Spain, Chile, and Greece.

California, the state in the western U.S, experience moderate or severe wildfires due to its hot, dry, and windy weather conditions. Historical studies suggest that before 1850, around 4.5 million acres (1.8 million ha) annual burning of land has occurred. While wildfires continue to ravage California every year, it has been a worrisome factor for environmentalists and the general public.

What causes these frequent wildfires in California? Can we do anything about it? Read ahead to understand more about the California wildfires.

How many fires are burning in California?

Wildfires have been causing destructions for around 420 million years, just as terrestrial plants developed. The carbon-rich vegetation on earth and the presence of atmospheric oxygen and other conditions favorable to combustion have made our planet an intrinsically flammable one. California has been experiencing moderate to severe forest fires for several centuries due to its dry, hot, and windy weather.

In the year 2020, the wildfire season in the state saw around 9,917 wildfires, which was a record-setting number. By the year-end, about 4,397,809 acres (1,779,730 ha) had been burned. With over 10,000 structures damaged, the state suffered damages worth $12.079 billion.

In 2021, there have been 8619 fires across the state so far (as of December 16). Across the state, 2,569,009 acres (1,039,641 ha) of land have been burned. With a minimum of 3629 structures being destroyed, two civilians and seven firefighters have been injured. 

California has been seeing conditions of drought and historically scanty rainfall and water levels. Amidst all these, the state witnessed an unusually early beginning of the wildfire season. In January 2021, there were 297 fires that burned 1171 acres (473.88 ha), which is significantly higher than the average numbers.

Climate change is regarded as one of the factors in the surge of long-term wildfire trends in the state. Extreme heat, drought, and reduced snowpack have contributed to the increased number and severity of wildfires. Additionally, the risk of landslides post-wildfire posed a significant threat.

By August, California faced multiple fires, including McFarland Fire, Dixie Fire, Caldor Fire, among many others. The majority of fires broke out in northern California. On October 18, 2021, the region had some relief, receiving its first showers in about 200 days. With rains, the risk in northern California has considerably lowered. However, it continues to remain high in southern California.

How did the California fires start?

California has been witnessing raging fires every season. The number of wildfires and the destruction they cause has been on the rise year after year. Several conditions, such as years of drought and record low levels of rainfall, have added fuel to the fire. Besides, the human contribution to these fires cannot be neglected.

Prolonged periods of droughts result in dry lands with no trace of moisture. Drylands cause the vegetation to dry up, making it vulnerable to combustion. Climate changes contribute to the start of these fires. Changing climates have altered the rainfall and snowfall levels. Hot and dry summers cause the trees to dry slowly. Warmer temperatures, combined with dry vegetation, catalyze fire. The dry vegetation acts as fuel, and all that it needs is a spark to cause the destruction.

With the conditions favorable for combustion, the reason for igniting the fire can be natural or manmade. A lightning strike can be a natural trigger, which can cause devastation. However, human beings have been responsible for the ignition in many cases.

Irresponsible human behavior has begun many deadly wildfires. The best example is the recent fire ignited by the smoke-generating pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party in the east of Los Angeles, which destroyed several thousand acres.

A casual toss of the cigar or an accidental spark triggered due to friction can also be reasons for the ignition. People's choice to live close to forests can also increase the chances of forest fires.

The Worst Bushfires In California History

Although California has been witnessing several wildfires, a few of the fires are among the most severe and largest bushfires on records. The California Forestry Department, responsible for fire protection and the administration of the state's forests, has listed a few wildfires as the deadliest.

Among the largest fires in California by acreage, four blazes of the 2021 fire season have been included.

The Dixie fire, Monument fires, the River Complex, and the Caldor fire occurred in July 2021 and August 2021.

The Dixie fire started on July 14. With the destruction of 963,309 acres (389,837 ha) of land, 1329 buildings, and one person dead, the fire is said to be the largest single source fire in the history of California. 

The Caldor fire that burned in Amador, El Dorado, Alpine in August 2021 blazed until October, destroying 221,835 acres (89,773 ha). The Caldor fire; one of the largest fires, destroyed 1,003 structures and left 81 buildings damaged. The cause of the fire is not known.

The Fawn fire in Shasta County blazed in September 2021, destroying 8,578 acres (3471 ha), damaging 26 buildings, and destroying 185 structures, which is suspected to be an act of arson.

The Windy fire that broke on September 9, 2021, destroyed 97,528 acres (39468 ha) of land. The fire was triggered by lightning on the Tule River.

The Alisal fire that broke out in Santa Barbara in October 2021 scorched 16,970 acres (6867.5 ha) and destroyed 12 structures. The Alisal fire was among the large fires of the wildfire season in California in 2021.

In one of the large fires in 2020, the fire at August Complex in Mendocino, Glenn, Tehama, Shasta, a whopping 1,032,648 acres ( 417,898 ha) were destroyed, and 935 structures were scorched.

The Mendocino Complex fire at Lake, Mendocino, Glenn, and more scorched 459,123 acres ( 185,800 ha) and destroyed 280 structures in July 2018.

The Campfires in Butte County in 2018 destroyed 153,336 acres ( 62,050 ha) of land and 18,804 structures, with the highest number of fatalities recorded. 85 people were killed in these fires.

The Campfires in Butte County in 2018 destroyed 153,336 acres

California Bushfires Facts

The fires in California are nothing uncommon. With increasing fire activity and fire protection methods and evacuations, massive fires have been raging in the state every year, which have impacted the environment and people's lives and livelihood significantly. Some facts about the California fires make us realize the need to act upon measures to prevent and manage the fires.

Among the 20 largest fires in the state, around 12 fires have occurred in the last five years. These 12 massive fires have scorched over 4% of the total area of California.

Among California's 20 most destructive fires, 13 fires have blazed in the last five years, collectively destroying about 40,000 structures.

Climate changes and global warming are significant causes of wildfires in California. The fires are ignited by lightning or accidental human activities. Arson for clearing land is also one of the reasons for the California fires.

Over prolonged fires in the wild, there has been an increase in dry bush, dead trees, and leaves in the forest, which increases the chances of fire. Additionally, with an increase in population, many people live in places susceptible to fire.

Most wildfires of California were contained completely by October 2021. The KNP Complex fire was listed as active, causing the destruction of 88,307 acres ( 35736.5 ha). However, as of Dec 20, 2021, the large fire has been completely contained, several months after the fire sparked.

How many people lost their lives due to the California fires?

Apart from the destruction of the land and infrastructure, the California fires have also caused loss of life and injury among people. As the population increases, people occupy the forest areas vulnerable to fires, putting their lives at risk. In the fire protection and evacuation efforts, firefighters are more prone to getting injured or to losing their lives. Let us look at the casualty details of California fires in the last five years.

As of Dec 16, 2021, California fires have claimed three lives in the year 2021, and 22 people have been injured.

The year 2020 saw 33 deaths and 37 people with non-fatal injuries, and 2019 witnessed the death of five people and 22 people with injuries. There were 103 deaths (six firefighters and 97 civilians) in 2018, when at least 80 people were injured. In 2017, 45 civilians and two firefighters passed away, while 12 firefighters and 199 civilians were injured.

Acting responsibly and with sensitivity towards the environment is the need of the hour so that the future generation will have their share of the environment and its resources. 

Written By
Sridevi Tolety

<p>With a Master's degree in clinical research from Manipal University and a PG Diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Sridevi has cultivated her passion for writing across various domains. She has authored a wide range of articles, blogs, travelogues, creative content, and short stories that have been published in leading magazines, newspapers, and websites. Sridevi is fluent in four languages and enjoys spending her spare time with loved ones. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, cooking, painting, and listening to music.</p>

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