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The massive fire that is sweeping through California today began to fester several years ago in a small town in Paradise. Many residents there moved to this small town not because it was next to a forest, but that it was in a forest. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for houses there to be surrounded by elegant Gray pines, cottonwoods, or walnut trees, all aligned like picket fences between each house. While those trees were majestic, they were also at massive risk of catching on fire.
It was through these trees that the fire started, but looking back through the sequence of events we can trace it back to six years ago when the town went through a drought that still persisted to this day. But what made matters worse was another issue that the residents of Paradise had to deal with since 2010: an infestation of dark beetles that killed of scores of these iconic trees.
Because of that infestation there were over 129 million dead trees sprinkled throughout the forests of California, all ready to be burnt up like matchsticks. And this problem only amplified as more people were living closer to these dry timber places. One mere mistake would be enough to spark a fire that would grow to massive heights.
This fact caused residents to live uneasily for years, knowing full well that a massive fire could break out at any moment. Some even recalled seeing the flames coming really close to town in previous years. Many prepared for the time and when the flames hit November 8th, the flames filled the quiet streets. Even as the fire roared and burnt down trees and exploded propane tanks, everyone had left. But as the fire passed through, the residents of Paradise lost their entire town.
Others weren’t as prepared. Which has caused the fire to this point take the lives of over 80 people and almost 1,300 people are missing. Evacuations are happening in droves as over 52,000 people have been forced to evacuate since the start of these fires.
People in nearby towns knew of the risks too and were growing concerned as seasons grew warmer and drier. Many residents knew that something was not right, even before the fire started. With many places around the area scattered with dead pines.
It’s devastating and for many people they may see this event as an anomaly, but it’s not. As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stated on Twitter, “Every time I come to California I say this si the worst fire I’ve seen. Once again this is the absolute worst. Worse than any war zone I saw in Iraq.”
When we look at both climate and science, it tells us what is causing wildfires. Furthermore because of the rise in climate we’ll only be experiencing larger and more destructive wildfires as temperatures continue to rise and populations continue to grow as well. Of course there are many things that we can do to prevent these events from happening again. However what’s happened with this wildfire is a stark vision of what’ll be in our future if we do nothing to address it.