In a community outside Los Angeles, more than 12,000 people are facing mandatory evacuation as a wildfire rages out of control. The Saddleridge Fire has burned some 1860 hectares, and so far officials haven’t been able to contain it.
The fire broke out Thursday night, and authorities have shut down parts of Route 210, a major freeway that cuts through Los Angeles County, as a result. Residents in California haven’t caught a break in recent years. Uncontrollable wildfires have roared through California over the past years, engulfing neighbourhoods and even entire communities.
This season, however, has been pretty quiet until this week. The Saddleridge Fire was spotted on a road off Route 210, but officials still haven’t announced a cause. Right now, brush in the area is helping fuel the flames.
Los Angeles’ fire chief announced that the fire has already damaged 25 homes and is growing at a rate of nearly 260 hectares per hour as winds whip it along. Officials have closed highways, including Interstate 5 around the San Fernando Valley town of Santa Clarita. Public health concerns from deteriorating air quality have prompted some schools to close.
It’s still early on the West Coast, so some residents may be only just waking up to this fiery reality. A local Fox reporter tweeted that he was knocking on doors in a neighbourhood and woke someone up who hadn’t realised the fire was inching closer.
Earlier in the week, Northern California utility PG&E shut off power to nearly 800,000 customers due to a high risk of wildfires. One of PG&E’s power lines helped spark the Camp Fire last year, which killed 85 people, so the company is seemingly trying to be more careful not to start another deadly fire. SCE, the main electric utility for Southern California, had cut power for a smaller service area as well, but there were concerns that other sources could ignite fires. While the cause of the Saddleridge Fire is still under investigation, the Sandalwood Fire — another major blaze in Southern California — was ignited by burning garbage.
— Rob Marciano (@RobMarciano) October 11, 2019
That and other fires burning in the area have stretched resources thin. So far, the Sandalwood Fire is only 10 per cent contained while the Wolf, Reche, and Wendy fires are all burning largely uncontrolled. The state hasn’t yet reported any damage for the Saddleridge Fire, but its proximity to residential areas and power lines mean it could pose a serious threat to people and property.
Meanwhile, firefighters are putting their lives — and mental health — on the line to battle these fires. Many of them are often incarcerated people doing this work for paultry wages as the state struggles to deal with the growing cost of its wildfire seasons.
Climate change won’t make anything better. Weather whiplash is expected to become more common in California, leading to explosive wildfire seasons. Rising temperatures are also contributing to drying out forests and brush, making large fires more likely. And in Southern California, cloud cover is disappearing and could be driven by climate change, again exacerbating fire season.
California’s 2018 is officially the worst year for bushfires in recorded state history, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday, citing the National Interagency Coordination Center’s year-end statistical analysis.
The 1.8 million acres of California land that burned last year was more than any other state in 2018, and it far surpassed 2017's tally of 1.3 million acres in California. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Scott McLean confirmed to the Times that the wildfires were unprecedented.