California Governor Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency Saturday due to more than a dozen wildfires damaging homes and forcing evacuations. The state is no stranger to wildfires, where severe drought has increased fire danger.
The fire was caused by lightning, beginning in Oregon Gulch on Wednesday, and has since crossed the border into California. The total size of the fire is 33 square miles. It has engulfed three homes and is threatening 270 other structures. The fire has been dubbed the Beaver Complex fire, as the original Oregon Gulch Fire has merged with a smaller fire, called Salt Creek, which began 20 miles Northwest Medford. Dennis Mathisen, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said fire conditions are extreme for this early in the season. He added, “It’s a recipe for disaster.”
Due to Governor Brown declaring a state of emergency for California, more resources can be called upon to fight the wildfire. A fire of this magnitude is beyond the resources of any one community or government to fight and federal funding can be used to cover costs. Brown has utilized a federal grant to cover 75 percent of the estimated costs for this fire.
California is no stranger to wildfire. Wildfire risk at an all-time high, due in no small part to the fact the state has been in a severe drought since May. Over half of the state, 58 percent, is under exceptional drought, the most severe classification. Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, says the state has not seen a drought this severe since the 1970s and 1920s.
Firefighters continue to battle other fires in the state, including a severe fire which started Wednesday evening near the town of Day in Modoc County. This fire has burned 20 square miles to date. It is threatening 150 structures with only 20 percent containment. Brush, heavy timber, strong winds, and steep terrain have made conditions difficult to access and fight the fire. Additional resources are expected to arrive and assist the already 700 firefighters on the ground.
Several evacuation orders have been issued around the state. Evacuations were issued in the Sierra National Forest near the Oakhurst community, where a fire threatened dozens of homes on Friday after burning 18 square miles. In Arnold Meadows, 50 homes were evacuated Friday night, many of them seasonal homes. Saturday morning, a lightning fire in Lassen National Forest burned 28 square miles and necessitated evacuations there. Crews working a fire near Mammoth Pool Reservoir, a popular tourist destination, achieved 15 percent containment after a fire there burned 13 square miles. Although no homes in the area were threatened, campgrounds were evacuated. No injuries have been reported in any of these fires.
Firefighters will be busy in the weeks and likely months to come as it will take over a foot of rain in most places to bring the state out of its severe drought conditions. Until then, declaring California a state of emergency will bring much-needed aid to battle its wildfires due to the ongoing drought.
By Stacey Wagner