By: Zina Abdulrahman, Arts and Entertainment editor, Yasmeen Duwaj, News editor, The Pawprint
For years California has suffered with chronic wildfires. In 2020 alone there were 9,917 incidents burning around 4 million acres of land which affected people’s homes, their mental state and the local animal’s habitats. Wildfires have always been a natural component of the earth’s ecosystem; some natural causes include a combination of heat, oxygen and fuel, or caused naturally by lightning. In California a vast majority of wildfires are started by people, up to 84%, through sparks, downed power lines or arson.
Climate change raises the temperature of wildfires in California and increases the likelihood of drought, and intensifies the frequency of such incidents. The issue is summarized by David Romps, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center: “To cut to the chase, was global warming responsible for the heat wave, lightning strikes, and vegetation dryness? Yes, absolutely. Was it due to global warming that they were much hotter, more numerous, and drier? most likely yes.”
Now in 2021, California is bracing the possibility of another devastating fire season. “The level of concern is through the roof,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at U.C.L.A. and the Nature Conservancy. There are 4 key reasons that make California’s Wildfires so catastrophic:
- The changing climate: California gets most of its moisture in the fall and winter. Its vegetation takes all of summer to dry out because of the lack of rainfall and warmer temperatures. That vegetation serves as a fire starter.
“In pretty much every single way, a perfect recipe for fire is just kind of written in California,” Dr. Williams said. “Nature creates the perfect conditions for fire, as long as people are there to start the fires. But then climate change, in a few different ways, seems to also load the dice toward more fire in the future.”(1)
- People: Even with the right set up for a wildfire, someone or something is always needed to ignite it. Although sometimes the trigger is nature, like unusual lightning strikes that set off the L.N.U. Lightning Complex fires in August. Some silly events like gender reveal parties can trigger a blaze.
Residents in California can experience chest tightness, eye discomfort, runny noses, sore throats, and coughing bouts as plumes of smoke and poor air quality cover the state. Another concern is the burning of plastics, paints, and other harmful chemicals involved in the destruction of buildings, appliances, and automobiles is a big problem with wildfire smoke. These flames release a distinct particle profile into the air that is “possibly far more harmful,” according to Pinkerton. While wildfires and other natural disasters endanger lives and livelihoods, they also take a toll on mental health.