My phone rang, the caller ID read red alert, and with smoke in the air I apprehensively answered the phone with a decent idea of what I’d hear on the other end. The Tick Fire in Santa Clarita, California was burning with a ferocity that can only come from endless months of hot dry weather mixed with Southern California’s Santa Ana winds. Winds which pushed the fire to over 1,000 acres in just a matter of hours.
Despite the phone call, we decided not to evacuate as the actual evacuation zone pushed on social media and the news by various emergency organizations did not include our home. However, for over 50,000 people the evacuation was mandatory. Police officers and other first responders drove through neighborhoods with loudspeakers blaring to ensure people actually vacated their homes. Climate change refugees flooded out of their neighborhoods and into designated locations throughout the community. And make no mistake, these people are climate change refugees.
This is the new normal. Paradise, California was an anomaly but like events are quickly becoming a yearly occurrence. And while the Tick Fire didn’t end in tragedy the way Paradise did, there were 26 structures destroyed and 32 found damaged. Tens of thousands of people’s lives were disrupted, and these sorts of events will only get worse as we go forward.
That’s just the fires too. That’s not to mention the over a million people whose lives were disrupted by forced power outages from utility companies like PG&E and Southern California Edison. Outages which were aimed at preventing fires like these in the first place. Some 23,000 of those who lost power lost their power with no warning and over 500 of them had life threatening medical conditions which were negatively impacted by the outage.
From climate change to the healthcare issues, these are problems of capitalism all the way down.
The climate change connection is obvious, these fires are massive in scope and continue to run later into the year every fire season. They become harder and harder to fight and set acerage records every single year. So far in 2019 California wildfires have burned almost 200,000 acres, at 198,815 and counting. Which costs the state a grand total $163 million dollars and counting to fight. And these numbers grow by the day.
These fires are fueled by drought like conditions (the drought officially ended, but the lack of rain and increasingly hot and dry climate remains) and an economic system which ensures future fire seasons will be just as difficult to stave off. These fires are the cost of climate change and an economic system which inherently prevents the long-term planning and systemic changes required to create the less intense fire seasons of yesteryear.
According to UN estimates we have 11 years to foster those changes before climate change of 2 degrees or more is more or less locked in. Those sorts of climatic changes will ensure disruptive fire seasons continue well into the future. And as the consequences of evacuations and the California utility companies show, regular people will be the ones left dealing with these fires and the disruption they bring.