To Extinguish a Scorching Problem: Preventative Efforts Needed for California Wildfires By Shaan Khan

Illustration by Emily Takara

California has one of the most naturally flammable landscapes on the face of the earth. Due to the dry landscape and dead vegetation across large portions of the state, fire spreads easily and quickly. As of Oct. 13, this fire season has produced 8,486 incidents with over 4 million total acres burned. There have been 9,247 structures damaged by the fires and at least 31 deaths. In fact, this fire season has been the most devastating season in California ever recorded – it has had even more fires than the last three years combined. These statistics show that California needs better fire control to combat the displacement of families and damage caused by them.

Due to poor management of forests and environments as well as global warming, California is in a wildfire crisis more severe than ever before, which threatens its residents, the natural landscape, and architecture.

“Years of not managing forests and a changing climate have put the state in a difficult situation,” Brain Ferguson, a spokesman at California’s Office of Emergency Services, said.

This shows that California is now in a position where the government, businesses and the people must work together to improve the conditions of the state's current predicament.

Currently, The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) is working on 35 priority fire prevention projects. The company is trying new methods to combat the spread of wildfires. Two of these strategies are high amounts of power cuts and brush clearing. Cal Fire is clearing brush near highways and removing dead trees near urban communities so the fires will have a harder time spreading because they have less fuel once the flammable brush is gone. The company has said over the next decade they will need to clear 500,000 acres to combat fire spreading, and that in this year they will treat 33,000 acres. However, Cal Fire is severely underfunded.

“The agency needs more than 10 times the money it’s getting for the work,” Michael Wara, a Stanford professor who served as one of the five members of California’s Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery, said.

Many experts doubt that the company will even hit their 33,000 acre goal for this year without more funding and resources. They believe that the company will also need to employ other methods to fight fires, such as prescribed burns.

California is also in need of more personnel to help fight fires. From governor Gavin Newsom to the fire crews themselves fighting the fires currently raging in the state, Californians have been desperately requesting firefighters from across the country, and even farther. On Oct. 15, there were nearly 9,000 firefighters on the frontlines of 21 wildfires across the state, and 12 of those fires were still considered major incidents.

One effective method that is slowly being inserted into fire management practices is the strategy of prescribed burns. Before they were removed from their lands, Native Americans practiced this by carefully lighting fires in the California hills. Through this strategy, they are able to carefully burn away large amounts of flammable environment, making wildfires harder to spread. In the last several years, prescribed burning has been banned by the state. Partially because of the ban, California saw an overgrowth of dead grass and other plants that eventually led to much more severe fires. However, with this practice being introduced into fire prevention again, it looks very promising, and it seems that it will be a very effective way to reduce fires.

California still has a long way to go before putting this crisis behind us. Many of the agencies in charge of extinguishing and preventing these fires are underfunded and understaffed. On top of that, California has to focus on the restoration and management of forest and environments that caused these severe fires. The state also has to adapt to global warming and continue to implement new and effective practices that keep wildfire devastation to a minimum.