Wildfires have caused devastation across northern California with a state of emergency declared across the US state.
Blazes were merging together and engulfing entire neighbourhoods on Friday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee at a moment’s notice. The California fire department called the conditions “unprecedented and unseen by veteran firefighters”.
Winds are reaching up to 30 miles per hours, causing the fires to spread quickly and unpredictably.
The fires come after a blistering heatwave and over 10,000 lightning strikes.
Vacaville, a city in Solano County, has been particularly badly hit.
“Firefighters couldn’t do anything, they just had to watch it burn,” said resident Marci Albers, who lost her house in the fire.“I’m in shock. I can’t even think straight,” she said after evacuating at 2am.
“We had 30 years of stuff in that house.”
On Friday, some 50,000 homes across California faced a direct threat.
The biggest 22 fires are still burning and some 360 recent fires have raged through 660,000 acres across the state—already more than last year.
In Santa Cruz, authorities asked all tourists to leave their hotels immediately to make space for evacuees.
“Local shelters are near capacity,” said local officials.
“The scale of existing and anticipated evacuation orders is unprecedented and the need to safely house evacuees is critical.”
Several historic buildings have already been destroyed and Big Basin Redwoods state park—home of ancient redwood trees—has been badly damaged.
Firefighters are stretched to the limit trying to contain the blazes. One family, whose home burnt to the ground, said a fire chief told them there weren’t enough trucks to send one to their neighbourhood.
More than 10,000 firefighters are working, but it’s simply not enough to overcome the infernos.
Some workers were even signing on for 72-hour rather than 24-hour shifts.
A quarter of the state’s firefighting force has been made up of inmates, paid as little $2 a day and $1 an hour when they are on a fire. But there is now a shortage of inmate firefighters because of the coronavirus crisis.
The disaster comes just as California became the first state to surpass 600,000 Covid-19 cases.
“Not only are we dealing with Covid-19, but with the heat and now the fires,” said Cheryl Jarvis. She was evacuated to a community centre but refused to go inside for fear of catching coronavirus.
Some residents are staying outside evacuation centres, sleeping in their cars or camping in tents.
The coronavirus crisis is making it hard for people to evacuate safely.“Providing shelter at traditional evacuation centres is not our first option this year,” said Jim Burns from the American Red Cross.
He said the organisation “have spaced out cots differently and have volunteers completely masked up” as a precaution.
It’s not an accident that California is suffering from increasingly devastating wildfires—it is a direct result of climate catastrophe.
The journal Earth’s Future warned last year that temperatures in the state had increased a massive 2.5 degrees since the early 1970s.
It said that dryer, hotter summers causing the disasters were “the clearest link between California wildfire and anthropogenic climate change”.
Temperatures have soared in California. And what could be the world’s hottest ever temperature—54.4 degrees—was recorded in the state’s Death Valley last week.
The message is clear—climate catastrophe is here and it’s costing lives, our homes and our natural world.
Now is the time to take action on climate change.
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The climate crisis is heating the Arctic at double the rate in lower latitudes. The ice cap is the biggest single contributor to sea level rise, which already imperils coasts around the world. The ice sheet shrank by 532 billion tonnes last year as its surface melted and glaciers fell into the ocean. The amount of melted ice would have filled seven Olympic-sized swimming pools per second.
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