2018 was Cal­i­for­nia’s worst year of fire ever, fed­eral re­port con­firms

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY JOSEPH SERNA

No state had it worse with wild­fires last year than Cal­i­for­nia, a fed­eral re­port re­leased this week con­firmed.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­ter­a­gency Co­or­di­na­tion Cen­ter’s yearend sta­tis­ti­cal roundup, more than 1.8 mil­lion acres of Cal­i­for­nia was burned by wild­land fires in 2018, sur­pass­ing the pre­vi­ous year’s to­tal of 1.3 mil­lion, of­fi­cials said.

“That’s the high­est in the recorded his­tory of Cal­i­for­nia,” said Scott McLean, spokesman for the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion.

More than 100 peo­ple were killed and 17,000 homes and 700 busi­nesses were de­stroyed in a state where fires are con­sid­ered one of the an­nual sea­sons. Crews re­sponded to more than 8,000 fires last year.

“It’s a sur­prise it’s that amount, but in a sense be­cause of what I’ve seen over the last year, no it’s not,” McLean said. “It’s what we’ve been liv­ing through.”

The last time Cal­i­for­nia saw the most acres burned of any state in the na­tion was 2003, when a se­ries of blazes killed dozens and scorched more than 750,000 acres in a mat­ter of weeks.

Last year’s Carr Fire in Shasta and Trin­ity coun­ties killed eight peo­ple and burned 230,000 acres in late July while at the same time, the Men­do­cino Com­plex Fire – a pair of blazes in Lake and Men­do­cino Coun­ties – black­ened 459,000 acres and killed one fire­fighter. The lat­ter was also the largest fire in state his­tory.

Then in early Novem­ber, the Woolsey Fire broke out in Ven­tura and Los An­ge­les coun­ties while thou­sands of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia res­i­dents in Par­adise were flee­ing for their lives from the Camp Fire, a fastmov­ing firestorm that killed 85 peo­ple and erupted the same day.

Those two fires burned a com­bined 250,000 acres and de­stroyed most of the homes that were lost in Cal­i­for­nia last year.

About half the acres burned in the state in 2018 were on fed­eral land with the rest on a mix of pri­vate, county and state lands, the re­port said. Cal­i­for­nia ac­counted for 21 per­cent of all acres burned in the United States last year.

Fire­fight­ers said the most dev­as­tat­ing blazes had the most ex­treme be­hav­ior – wind-driven em­ber storms that cre­ated spot fires far be­yond de­fen­sive lines and, in the case of the Carr fire, a “fire tor­nado” that ig­nited ob­jects lifted into the air.

The fires were stoked by winds and fed on dead brush and trees left over from years of se­vere drought. This year’s wet win­ter is pro­mot­ing even more fuel to grow, McLean said.

To that end, fed­eral and state fire agen­cies have said they are re­dou­bling their ef­forts to re­duce the wild­fire threat in Cal­i­for­nia through pre­scribed burns and treat­ments. In a re­port re­leased this week, Cal Fire listed dozens of for­est man­age­ment projects it wants to com­plete around vul­ner­a­ble foothill and moun­tain com­mu­ni­ties to stave off the next Par­adise or Santa Rosa.

“It’s not go­ing to stop when we com­plete these projects,” McLean said. “This pro­gram has to con­tinue for­ever. It’s an on­go­ing process from here on out.”

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