The immense scope and scale of this month’s California wildfires are a timely reminder of a “new normal” that includes a catastrophic toll in human tragedy and presents new challenges for fire service professionals.
Some have pointed to the increased frequency of wildfires as a consequence of global warming, and the resulting higher temperatures, less humidity and changing wind and rainfall patterns. President Trump has blamed “poor forest management” (an assertion the president of California Professional Firefighters has called “dangerously wrong.”)
Other theories include population shifts and the proximity of residences near wildlands. There has been talk of a need for better long-term fire prevention.
But whatever the cause, the results are eye-opening.
Historically, all but one of California’s biggest-ever wildfires have occurred in the last 10 years
Rapid Increase In Wildfires In California
California’s Camp Fire has been called the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. Fast-moving and unpredictable, the fire totally destroyed the town of Paradise. At the same time, the Woolsey Fire continued for 10 days and consumed an estimated 96,949 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Historically, all but one of California’s biggest-ever wildfires have occurred in the last 10 years, whether measured in terms of area impacted, loss of life or damage to property, all suggesting a troubling acceleration. In fact, an increase in wildfires is causing destruction around the world.
Firefighters Combating Wildfires Effectively
For firefighters, the experience and environment have been compared to working in a war zone, reflected by terms such as “aerial assaults” and “boots on the ground.”
Burned-out cars on the side of the road, residents fleeing from their homes and whole areas totally annihilated reflect a level of destruction that is unusual in a peaceful society. Tent cities of displaced residents are reminiscent of war refugees. For the recent California fires, firefighter teams traveled from 17 states to battle the wildfires
The California wildfires also bring out the best in humanity. There are tales of neighbor helping neighbor and examples of heroism among residents and firefighters, who also share a feeling of brotherhood and kinship forged in extremely adverse conditions. It’s a job that demands bravery and resilience.
For the recent California fires, firefighter teams traveled from 17 states to battle the wildfires, from as far away as Alaska and Georgia. There were around 200 firefighters from Texas, 300 from Oregon, and 144 from Arizona among the extra manpower deployed to fight the fires.
Protecting Firefighters From Wildfire Danger
Fighting wildfires requires a specific approach and offers new challenges. Water can be difficult to find in an already drought-ridden state. Fires that spring up in wooded areas present difficult terrain for fire-fighting vehicles. Higher heat and smoke levels challenge the best methods of protecting firefighters from injury.
As the accelerated pace and larger scale of wildfires continue, the fire service will need to expand its strategies, and fire equipment industry will need to enhance its toolbox to meet tomorrow’s continuing horrific realities.
If there is a lesson in this month’s wildfires in California, perhaps it is this: More to come.