The Cost of Fire

The California wildfires have captured headlines for the past weeks raging through both northern and southern parts of the state. With the fires, Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire to name a few, fast destroying homes and taking lives it is set to be California’s deadliest in the state’s history. As I am writing this, the largest fire has consumed over a hundred thousand acres and is only 30% contained (I am using this 2018 California Fire Tracker). I am from California, the Bay Area more specifically, and to see the devastation lying in the wake of the fires’ path is scary. My friends and family have not needed to evacuate but their day-to-day lives have been affected. The air is thick with smoke – to the extent that residents have to wear protective masks and schools have cancelled classes all the way through to Thanksgiving. The costs, whether they be monetary or to agriculture, are mounting as this wildfire season continues.  

This post is a very general discussion about certain aspects of the 2018 California wildfires and if personal views are shared, they are my own and should not be attributed to CTaLE, UCL or any other organisation that I am associated with.

There are very real economic costs to consider in the aftermath of wildfire. Following this Forbes article, it states that affected property owners either choose to leave or stay and rebuild. Property buyers might then be attracted to this opportunity of cheaper land. However, the makeup of the land and its communities are forever changed. The fires themselves can cause billions of dollars’ worth of damage.  Accuweather’s article reports that over the course of the November 2018 fires, the total damage could reach $200 billion making it “one of the U.S.’ costliest weather and climate disasters, exceeding the damage cause by recent major hurricanes such as Katrina, Sandy and Harvey.”

According to this article, the number of US wildfires have increased by 400% in the past 50 years with studies by the National Academy of Sciences showing that climate change has brought about higher temperatures that dry out lands and forests. Climate change needs to be taken seriously as it is leading to year-round wildfires within states such as California. This is further elaborated by an NBC news story claiming that it has nothing to do with forest mismanagement and that the fires are reaching far past forest lines. Heat, the subsequent droughts, and strong winds are factors to the spreading fires. CNN’s article reports that so far, firefighters have used approx. $601 million to combat the fires while their 2018 emergency budget was only $443 million. 

The firefighters are working around the clock and people who have lost their homes are having to rebuild their lives. These wildfires are predicted to get worse over the next years as the effects of climate change can be more clearly seen.The costs of these fires are astronomical, and we need to pay attention to ways we can counter this pressing issue.

Update: all fires are now 100% contained as of this blog post date.

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