The Californian wildfires are more than ten times the size of the entire city of Paris and officials fear they may not be extinguished until September.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on August 8, 2018

There are two main wildfires burning in California, the main one being the Mendocino Complex fire which has already destroyed 117,639 hectares (or 290,692 acres) of land. Only a third of the blaze is under control.

Across Northern California, more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed and seven people have perished. There may be tens of thousands who have been forced out of their homes. In addition to the main blazes, there are six satellite fires also still burning.

Almost 4,000 firefighters are battling the wildfires, including crews from across the US, Australia and New Zealand. Scorching temperatures and strong winds are making their task more difficult. Cal Fire was increasing funding for support services for firefighters in the wake of the carnage, recoginising the human toll that those fighting the fires face.

US President Donald Trump has declared a “major disaster” in the state and has ordered federal funds be made available to contain the damage.

“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” the White House wrote in a statement.

Fires threatening foothill communities

The current focus for firefighters is containing the giant blaze behind fire lines on the ridge above the upland communities of Lucerne, Nice, Glen Haven and Clearlake Oaks.

“If it were to be carried outside of those lines they have on the ridge, it could sweep down into those communities, that’s what we’re trying to prevent,” said Tricia Austin, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire.

Meanwhile, Tom Flannigan, a spokesperson with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has described the smoke from the fires as a “serious public health concern”. The air quality in some parts of California is so bad that officials are advising people to stay indoors as much as possible.

The plumes of smoke were even visible from the International Space Station. Astronaut Ricky Arnold tweeted out a photo showing the smoke from his vantage point 400 kilometres (250 miles) above earth.

The currently burning blazes are just the latest large-scale wildfires to devastate California. Last year, the Thomas Fire destroyed 281,893 acres of land in Santa Barbara and razed more than 1,000 buildings.

Trump tweets about the California wildfires

On 7 August, Donald Trump tweeted that the fires were being “made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized.” Officials have denied that a lack of water or access to water has hampered firefighting efforts.

Scott McLean, a Deputy Chief at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Trump was wrong in saying the state didn’t have enough water to combat the blazes. “We’re having no issues with water supplies,” he said, adding that the state also used chemical retardants as well as water to extinguish the flames.

“I don’t understand it,” McLean said of Trump’s tweet. “I was surprised like everybody else.”

The Washington Post also corrected Trump’s assertion that Californian water was being diverted into the ocean.

Further, the newspaper said that man-made global warming had resulted in higher temperatures, dried out forests and ultimately what the Interior Department called a “longer wildfire season with more intense wildfires.”

Hydrologist Peter Gleick said that Trump “seems to be suggesting that somehow California’s water policies have created a shortage of water to fight the fires, which is completely ridiculous.”

“It’s just nonsensical,” Gleick added. “He’s taking advantage of a natural disaster to weigh in ignorantly on California environmental policy.”