The Flames of Southern California

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ART BY SHIRLEEN KWONG

  Picture this: a fire lights up a dry brush. Five minutes later, the same blaze consumes a forest. 

  Due to the lack of moisture and human intervention, California has already faced many wildfires within the past year. According to The New York Times, not only is the changing climate of California the source of beginning a fire, but disasters started by humans also have an impact on the probability of creating these natural disasters.   

  On one hand, wildfires are a part of nature. They play a key role in shaping ecosystems by serving as an agent of renewal and change. But, fires can be deadly, destroying homes, wildlife habitat, and polluting the air with emissions that are harmful to human health.   

  On Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency as extreme winds continued to encourage wildfires. The legislature has subsequently affected thousands of residents to evacuate. But those who haven’t been cleared out yet are facing blackouts and poor air quality. Reflective of the severity of the fires, the raging fires have already engulfed thousands of acres from both Northern and Southern California. California wildfires are unsustainable and are caused by numerous factors such as climate and human carelessness.

  As stated by the Ecosystem Management, the condition for an outbreak of fire includes oxygen, thermal source, and fuel material, also known as the “fire triangle.” During warmer days, people decide to spend more of their days and free time out in nature. They try to keep the shape of the place they were in, the same or even better condition. Unfortunately, people still behave irresponsibly in nature, forgetting that, at high temperatures, even a cigarette butt can be the start of an enormous outrage of a fire.  Undoubtedly, the underlying problem plaguing California citizens is whether the fires are from natural causes or a result of human carelessness

  As the effect of the fires are numerous and wide-ranging, they have many significant influences on the economy and environment. Economic costs can range as high and low when fighting with fire, to loss of income from land and damage of property. Landscape damage can impinge on tourism, with consequences leaning towards local businesses and communities. Restoring damaged habitats can also typically be extremely costly and time-consuming. 

 Apart from the obvious impacts of wildfires on upland and biodiversity, they also have a direct impact on the benefits that people receive from the environment including food and water. Wildfires directly affect the upland ecosystem through damage to land and soil, which results in the loss of valuable property.

  Moreover, wildfires cause a risk in local communities. Wildfires influence safety issues such as destroying homes, endangering those who live and work in isolated areas, as well as risking residents that live in the countryside to evacuate immediately. In rural areas, most fire-fighters are “retained” meaning that they work part-time, unlike firefighters that live in the city that work full time. The risks of having firefighters working part-time, causes them to be called away from their normal work, which can disrupt local businesses. Moreover, influencing how long firefighters in rural areas come to prevent a fire.  

   Despite this, fires can potentially disturb those outside of the area, particularly urban life. Smoke can travel many miles on prevailing winds, affecting air quality and visibility in areas far away. This can have public health implications, especially for people with respiratory problems.

  Apart from this, because of all the recent fires occurring these past few years, the government and electrical companies have decided to take action. The cause of wildfires has had a strong impact on most electrical companies leading them nearly filing for bankruptcy since all the weight was given to electrical companies to fix power lines that were destroyed during fires. Based on the New York Times, California Governor Gavin Newsom concluded two options: One,  investor-owned utilities a $10.5-billion line of credit through an extension of an existing fee on electricity bills. Companies could use the money to pay costs that exceed its insurance coverage for wildfire damages, and it would be responsible to repay the loans if it failed to appropriately manage its system to prevent the fire. Two, the government would establish an annual utility safety certification process before the onset of wildfire season. To qualify, companies would have to tie executive compensation to safety performance, create a safety committee on its board of directors and implement their wildfire reduction plans. A company that earned a safety certification before wildfire season would be allowed to tap into a wildfire fund, support from the $10.5 billion from ratepayers and at least another $10.5 billion from the utilities. The wildfire fund would act as a second insurance policy for the utilities. The companies would only have to pay it back, up to a cap, if they behaved unreasonably to cause a fire. The safety certification would also shift the burden of proof away from a utility, requiring outside groups to intervene in regulatory proceedings and raise serious doubt that the electrical corporation operated its system reasonably before a wildfire. Critics have said the shift would make it harder to prove that a utility is at fault. As these utility companies are taking precautionary measures that affect many citizens, the subject of wildfires is a problem needed to be strictly focused upon now. 

  As California continues to combat the spread of wildfires, change ultimately begins with the individual. California’s government can only prevent so much, being aware of the surrounding area can stop any kind of fire from forming. It is only a matter of time to see how damaging this wildfire season will be.

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