One of the worst wildfire periods in California’s history is slowly winding down, with the majority of the state’s deadly fires now contained or nearly under control.
Of the 16 wildfires that tore through the state earlier this month, all but five are now contained. That includes the Mendocino Complex fire, which burned for a month and is now the worst wildfire in California’s recorded history. That fire is a complex of two fires, the Ranch fire and the River fire, both of which began burning in July.
According to an August 30 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the Ranch fire is 93 percent contained, with 410,182 acres still impacted. The River fire is limited to 48,920 acres and is 100 percent contained, although smoke and hazy conditions persist around the entire area.
While containment does not mean that a wildfire has finished burning, it does indicate that either a man-made or natural barrier is keeping a fire from spreading.
The deadly Carr fire, another record-setting blaze, is also now completely contained, according to Cal Fire. Moreover, Yosemite National Park, which was briefly closed due to the threat of the nearby Ferguson Fire, has been re-opened following the park’s longest and most extensive closure since severe flooding in 1997. Full containment of all fires is anticipated in early September.
In the United States, the West Coast has seen an exceptionally blistering few months, with California among the states worst-hit by wildfires. While wildfires are a natural occurrence in the area, scientists have noted that warming temperatures and shifting weather patterns are exacerbating natural disasters, attributing that trend to climate change.
Despite the ebbing blaze, the scars of this year’s wildfire season will linger for a long time for the Golden State.
The Mendocino fire burned more than 450,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of structures, including many homes and public buildings, injuring multiple people and killing at least one person. The Carr fire was even deadlier, leaving three firefighters dead. That fire destroyed more than a thousand residences and hundreds of other structures.
Officials are still investigating the sources of several fires this year, including the Mendocino blaze. At least one, the Carr fire, was caused by a mechanical failure. In response to the severity of this year’s wildfire season, environmentalists in California are pushing to ban smoking at certain public spaces, namely state parks and beaches. Cigarettes are the source of a number of fires throughout California every year.
“The 2017 California wildfire season was the most destructive one on record, and the 2018 season is not off to a great start,” said California Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) during a floor debate this week while lawmakers pushed for a bill curbing outdoor smoking. “This bill is a common-sense approach to lower the risk of forest fires and will help curb pollution.”
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has repeatedly vetoed efforts to crack down on public smoking; it is unclear how he will respond to the latest attempt to curb the practice. Local advocates and publications, including the Sacramento Bee, have looked beyond smoking and argued the state should directly fight climate change, bettering local response systems and accounting for shifting weather patterns in city planning.
While lawmakers war over potential paths to mitigating California’s wildfires, residents are feeling their impact. Those who live in fire-prone areas are increasingly struggling to get their insurance renewed, with companies unwilling to take such risks. Tourism in wine country, meanwhile, has taken a heavy blow this year thanks to the enduring blaze.
California isn’t alone — areas across the United States and the world have experienced deadly wildfires this summer, including Greece and even northern Sweden. The fires have killed a number of people and destroyed thousands of buildings. They have also hit local economies hard, leaving many struggling to recover as summer comes to an end and peak tourism season concludes.