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Explainer: The 2018 California wildfires

2018 has been one of the deadliest and most destructive wildfire seasons in California’s history. Dozens have been killed, tens of thousands have been displaced, hundreds of thousands of acres have been burned, and thousands of homes are destroyed.

There are two major fires which have taken up the majority of headlines. The larger of the two was the Camp Fire in Butte County in northern California. The other was the Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles County in southern California. As of Wednesday night, these are the latest statistics for these fires according to CalFire and other local news agencies:

Camp Fire:

  • Start Date: 11/08/2018, 6:33 AM
  • Cause: Under investigation
  • Containment: 100 percent
  • Size: 153,336 acres
  • Structures Destroyed: 13,972 residences, 528 commercial and 4,293 other buildings
  • Civilian Casualties: 88 dead, 0 injured
  • Firefighter Casualties: 0 dead, 3 injured

With the death toll currently at 88, the Camp Fire is the nation’s deadliest wildfire in nearly a century. Roughly 196 people are still unaccounted for at this time.

Woolsey Fire:

  • Start Date: 11/08/2018, 2:24 PM
  • Cause: Under investigation
  • Containment: 100 percent
  • Size: 96949 acres
  • Structures Destroyed: 1,500
  • Structures Damaged: 341
  • Civilian Casualties: 3 dead, 0 injured
  • Firefighter Casualties: 0 dead, 3 injured

What’s next?

Thankfully, both fires are fully contained after California got its first winter storm. Unfortunately, this will also bring about new risks, including flooding, mudslides, and runoff of ash and debris. Normally, when it rains, the ground is able to absorb a large amount of the rain. The different plants, trees, and other foliage help keep the soil together with their root systems. However, remove these things and add a layer of ash and debris (which can repel water), and this creates a perfect recipe for mudslides, flash flooding, and rivers formed from a slurry of rain and ash and debris. All these things could impede the search for the victims still missing. Areas which have steep gradients (slopes) are especially at risk for these kinds of threats. While no mudslides have yet been reported, be cautious if you live downhill from an area that has recently been burned.

While the fires are now contained, the aftermath still remains, and there are still needs to be met. As I mentioned in my previous article, I would encourage Christians worldwide to continue to pray diligently, give generously, comfort sympathetically, and love compassionately, being the hands and feet of Christ to those who have tangible needs. These needs will still remain long after the fires disappear from the headlines. And, if you know a firefighter or police officer, thank them for their service. It’s during times like these when we rely on them most.

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