This “historic” spate of California wildfires have so far displaced hundreds of thousands during a pandemic, killed seven, destroyed at least tens of thousands of structures, burned through the equivalent acreage of a small state and sent plumes of smoke over several regions, forcing millions indoors during a heat wave.
Yet the country’s paper of record – the New York Times – seems unwilling to feature this incredibly newsworthy disaster that has affected millions of Americans prominently on its pages.
Californians have long felt overlooked and almost deliberately misunderstood by East Coast media – just look to Los Angeles Twitter any time the New York Times writes anything about the city. Last year, Curbed LA came up with a bingo card after a New York Times published a piece about Echo Park that included cliches like “Joan Didion quote”, “yoga/juice/kale” and “casual racism”.
But when the Washington Post dedicates its lead, above-the-fold front page image to the wildfires and the New York Times chooses to run an image of a water park party in Wuhan, China? Well, that’s a choice, to say the least.
The largest wildfires that firefighters are battling in California at this moment are called lightning complex fires. Cal Fire has referred to the past week as the August Lightning Siege.
The cause of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire and the Butte/Tehama/Glenn Lightning Complex Fire have officially been listed as lightning. The two largest fires currently burning though - the LNU Lightning Complex Fire and the SCU Lightning Complex Fire - are still listed as under investigation.
That doesn’t mean they were misnamed or that fire officials have exaggerated the August Lightning Siege - it means Cal Fire is busy and that figuring out the point or points of origin for these particular complex fires is probably complicated.
What it comes down to is that lightning has been determined to be the cause of five out of seven of the national forest or park fires currently burning: the August Complex in Mendocino National Forest, the Loyalton Fire in Tahoe National Forest, the Castle Fire in Sequoia National Park, the North Complex Fire in Plumas National Forest and the Beach Fire in Inyo National Forest.
In total, those fires have burned 275,439 acres, or 430 square miles - just a hair under the size of New York City.
Tens of thousands around California have had to evacuate since the lightning fires began last week. Some have been able to return to their homes, but others are not so fortunate.
Which raises the question: how do you set up emergency evacuation shelters in the time of social distancing and Covid-19?
Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, addressed the issue during his briefing, discussing some of the measures the state has taken.
For evacuees unable to find alternative forms of shelter with friends and family, the state has housed 1,480 people in 599 rooms across 31 hotels.
In addition to those efforts, there are 17 congregate shelters operating in seven counties that have housed 731 people.
Newsom described touring some of these congregate shelters in the past week to observe the health and safety protocols that they were undertaking. Before he could even enter to tour, he had to undergo a temperature check and a health screening, and then a nurse provided him with shelter guidelines for social distancing. Shelter occupants have to wear face masks, he said, and air purifiers were running at all times.
The cots were spaced “in excess of 10 feet apart”, said Newsom, and shelter officials had taped out paths and spacing for bathroom use.
“Nothing is perfect. Everybody is human trying to do their absolute best,” Newsom said. “But what I saw, I was very impressed and very gratified of the seriousness to which people were taking this effort.”
Wildfires grow to second- and third- largest in history
Two of the lightning complex wildfires burning around the San Francisco Bay Area have grown to the size of the second- and third- largest in California history.
The LNU Lightning Complex Fire, burning in Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo and Lake counties, has now grown to 350,000 acres and 22% containment, according to the governor.
The SCU Lightning Complex Fire, burning in Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, is now 347,000 acres and 10% containment.
10 new fires in the last 24 hours
Northern California health officials are telling residents to stay inside, to protect themselves from the poor air quality caused by the wildfire smoke. But for many, that’s not an option.
A vulnerable, essential labor force – the more than 381,000 agriculture workers in California – already disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic keeps working as others flee and take shelter.
These low-wage, primarily Latinx laborers do not have the option of paid time off, hazard pay or sick days - for them, keeping America fed means keeping their families fed. On days of heavy smoke, they’re forced to choose between their health and their paycheck.
Workers rights advocates told me that state regulations require companies to provide workers with face masks when the air quality reaches the unhealthiest level. But with the various levels of contractors and subcontractors within the industry – a company may have a different company in charge of hiring the fieldworkers and another company in charge of overseeing the fieldworkers – what’s on paper as a company mandate does not always end up in practice in the fields.
And unfortunately, according to advocates, the state and federal occupational safety and health agencies meant to hold these companies accountable only respond when complaints are filed when “any person can just drive through the fields and see if there are workers not being protected or given safety precautions”, said Lucas Zucker, the policy and communications director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy.
“The structure of these worker safety agencies are not set up to respond quickly in a disaster,” he said.
Read more about the situation here:
The three wildfires burning around the San Francisco Bay Area have grown to a total size larger than the state of Rhode Island.
The SCU Lightning Complex Fire that is burning in various locations throughout Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties to the east is at 347,196 acres - or 542.5 squres miles - and 10% containment.
The LNU Lightning Complex Fire that is burning across Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Lake and Yolo counties in the north is now at 350,030 acres - or 546.9 square miles - and 22% containment.
The CZU Lightning Complex Fire that is burning through San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties to the south has grown to 74,000 acres - or 115.6 square miles - and 8% containment.
The three wildfires total about 1,205 square miles. Rhode Island is about 1,034 square miles.