California Wildfires and Power Outages
Updated: Feb 11, 2021
By Leah Martinez '22
Constant and unpredictable wildfires have become a harsh reality for countless California residents and, along with the other unforeseeable challenges of 2020, this year’s fire season has been one of California’s four largest ever recorded. Over 2.5 million acres have burned since August. The magnitude of these fires is extremely severe; more frequent and intense heat waves combined with less rainy days have caused areas with dry shrubs and dead trees to be most vulnerable. Wind patterns and lightning strikes are significant factors to note when determining which patterns wildfires will follow: stronger winds quite literally fan the flames, and lighting strikes often are starting points for quick-spreading fires.
An undeniable factor of these disastrous fires is climate change as it has resulted in rising temperatures, intense dry seasons, earlier snow melts, and drier vegetation; all of these problems make it extremely easy for a single flame to become a massive fire that engulfs an entire forest for miles. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, between 1984 and 2015 climate change has doubled the amount and strength of fires ravaging California. Back in March of 2019 The Spartan Press also covered the Australian fires which had similar conditions to California: too many hot and dry areas and not enough water, conditions which are also worsened by climate change.
There has also been a lot of finger-pointing as to who, or what, is to blame for the blackouts. Accusations have been placed on electric companies like PG&E, the heatwaves, and overstrained gas plants. The blackouts could not have come at a worse time as most of us have transitioned to online school and work. Electrical companies have scheduled blackouts as an extra precaution to prevent wildfires and sent their customers reminders to be mindful of how much energy they are using.
In response to the fires, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency because of the rapid spread across California. Governor Newsom also requested a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration, which provides counseling, housing, job assistance, and legal services to those affected by the fires, and as of October 16 the declaration was accepted. Hopefully, those affected will be able to find some amount of support to rebuild their lives from this tragedy. To help combat the fires 858 additional firefighters have been hired, along with the state’s typical usage of prison inmates to fight wildfires.
Inmates are usually only paid a few dollars per day, and experience negative side effects such as inhaling smoke. The pandemic has led to inmates being released early to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and as a result, there are fewer firefighters. Before, while inmates fought many fires they were not certified after release. Although there are fewer inmates fighting fires this year, one development regarding these workers is the AB2147 Bill, which Governor Newsom passed to allow inmates to be eligible to become licensed firefighters or EMTs after their release.