By Nathaniel Valyo, National News Writer
Raging wildfires across Northern California have left 42 dead and 213,000 acres of land destroyed since their inception on Sunday, October 8.
California, a state familiar with wildfires, is experiencing an unprecedented amount of casualties and scorched land, with amounts exceeding state records. Thousands of firefighters and emergency personnel are still working to contain the fires, and tens of thousands of local residents continue to remain under threat of evacuation from their homes. An estimated 5,700 structures have been destroyed, according to Cal Fire.
A recent gust of cool air and light rains have made it easier to contain the fires, as opposed to the hot, dry air which allowed the fires to spread across thousands of acres. “We’ve been battling Mother Nature the whole time, and to have her finally relent and give us the rain we needed to put this thing out, it felt like the end scene of the movie where you feel you’ve just survived,” said Brandon Jones, the Sherriff’s Deputy of Sonoma County, one of the areas hit hardest.
Some of the evacuations in Northern California have been lifted, and residents in those areas have begun to move back into their homes. However, over 34,000 people still remain under evacuation protocols. Given the rapid spread of the fires, residential areas once considered to be safe from the threat of fires have been affected, contrary to data models and statistics.
“We are still optimistic, cautiously optimistic … our containment percentages are continuing to go up,” said Bret Gouvea, an incident commander for Cal Fire.
As the fires are nearing 100% containment, and as California residents are beginning to return to their homes, a larger problem remains: cleaning up the massive amounts of debris and ash that remain from the fires. Not only is this a costly endeavor, but wind gusts could potentially spread the ash and debris into other non-affected areas, and rain could wash it into streams and rivers as well, leaving waterways and sources of drinking water in danger of contamination.
In addition, there have been reports of people scavenging through their incinerated homes in search of sentimental items that could have survived the fires. But this, according to Dr. Karen Relucio, chief public health officer of Napa County, only leads to more destruction.
“Just think of all the hazardous materials in your house,” Relucio said. “Your chemicals, your pesticides, propane, plastic, gasoline, and paint—it all burns down into the ash. It concentrates into the ash, and it’s toxic.” Napa County is one of three counties to declare a public emergency from the toxic waste.
Because of the sheer vastness of the land destroyed by the fires, it is unknown how long it will take for the entire communities to rebuild. Dr. Alan Lockwood, a former neurologist known for his writings on public health, stated “In modern times this has got to be an unprecedented event, and a major hazard for the public and for property owners.” He compared the environmental cleanup to Manhattan after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
According to Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant, the wildfires will more than likely be fully contained on Tuesday, October 24, assuming the weather conditions are favorable.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 24th print edition.
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