California fire season 2019

Elinor Amir-Lobel, Copy Editor

“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!” wrote famous author J.R.R. Tolkien. However, here in California, snow is rare, and the 2019 wildfire dragons proved especially devastating for our ecosystem. Approximately 7,000 fires were recorded this year in California, and the Diablo and Santa Ana winds continued to blow in December. 

The total damages from this season are estimated to amount to around $80 billion, and, in November, President Trump notoriously tweeted that California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, should “get his act together” and threatened to cut off California from federal funds that traditionally aided the aftermath of wildfires. Governor Newsom responded that, since the President denies climate change exists, he is “excused from this conversation.” The Governor then stated, “We’re successfully waging war against thousands of fires started across the state in the last few weeks due to extreme weather created by climate change while Trump is conducting a full on assault against the antidotes.”

There were fewer acres burned this year than in previous years which is remarkable considering that the last two years have consisted of the deadliest fire seasons in history. However, compared to previous seasons, there have been more power outages. 

This year, in anticipation of the fires, Public Safety ordered massive power shutoffs, and millions were left without power in their homes and workplaces. For example, at the University of California, Berkeley, electricity was shut off for several days. These preemptive shutoffs have been controversial because they were designed to be preventative, as high winds meeting high voltages can erupt fires, but they also left many residents without power for days and, therefore,dangerously unaware of critical updates and life-saving electronic devices. On the positive side of the situation, the Getty Museum, which was at high risk of being damaged, was protected and unharmed by nearby fires.

Still, the devastation is huge, and the ripple effects, both economic and social, will continue as we enter new seasons. Despite voices to the contrary, understanding climate change is key to understanding California’s wildfires. As Columbia University environmental professor Park Williams explains, global warming means that our surroundings are drying out more than in the past, leading to drier vegetation that is more pervasive and can catch fire more easily.

Robert Frost famously wrote, “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.” The fact is, our icebergs are melting, and our fires are becoming more threatening and it is up to us to take action and protect our Earth.