Lily McLean, journalist and social director
During the worst fires, the sky in California becomes tinted with gray. Smoke reflects the light of the sun differently, giving the world an eerily golden filter. Sometimes schools close when the air quality becomes dangerously poor. Students in the golden state have become more accustomed to smoke days than snow days.
The latest disastrous fire began burning on October 23rd. By the time it was fully contained on November 6th, almost 78,000 acres of land had been consumed. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (better known as PG&E) preemptively chose to shut off power for approximately 250,000 Californians after it received harsh criticism for its roles in previous fires. Over 180,000 people were placed under a mandatory evacuation order, forced to flee their homes, belongings, animals, and lives.
Although the cause of the fire has not yet been formally investigated, PG&E reported that one of its power lines broke shortly before the fire began in the area where it originated. Strong fall winds likely contributed to the spread of fire, with some as fast as 80 mph. The fire was able to spread quickly, destroying structures by the towns of Healdsburg and Windsor. As the Kincade Fire burned, smaller fires also broke out throughout the state. Two were quickly contained by firefighters in Alameda County which includes the city of Oakland.
The widespread power outages were caused more injuries than the fire itself. In the city of Santa Rosa, multiple car crashes were reported due to the lack of traffic lights. Those reliant on medical equipment to help them cope with serious health issues were deeply concerned about losing access to their machines. Some hospitals in regions near the fire also evacuated patients in an effort to avoid a repeat of the Tubbs Fire in 2017 which forced a rapid and disorganized evacuation on many hospitals and unstable patients.
The Camp Fire of November 2018 caused a total of 86 deaths and led to the destruction of almost 19,000 structures. It has been confirmed by the state agency Cal Fire that electrical transmission lines controlled by PGE&E led to the fire.
As the state recovers from this latest disaster, it is likely that a full investigation into the cause of the Kincade Fire and any relationship that it might have had with P&E will begin. Growing tensions between the company and Californians affected by the numerous fires that have occurred in the last decade have not been eased by this latest issue. Fear over another devastating fire starting while the state is still in the midst of a dry fall is a major concern for many residents, even as the state works to improve its firefighting abilities.
Alexander, Kurtis. “Sonoma’s Kincade Fire Was Different – No One Died. Here’s Why.” SFChronicle.com, San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Nov. 2019, https://www.sfchronicle.com/california-wildfires/article/Sonoma-s-Kincade-Fire-was-different-no-one-14803938.php.
Cbs. “Power Outage Results In Multiple Crashes, Injuries At Santa Rosa Intersections.” CBS San Francisco, CBS San Francisco, 9 Oct. 2019, https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2019/10/09/power-outage-results-in-multiple-crashes-injuries-at-santa-rosa-intersections/.
Davenport, Kevin. “What Is It about Smoke That Makes a Sunset More Intense?” Idahostatesman, Idaho Statesman, 26 July 2018, https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/environment/fires/article215576440.html.
Fuller, Thomas. “For the Most Vulnerable, California Blackouts ‘Can Be Life or Death’.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Oct. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/us/california-power-outage.html.
Gafni, Matthias. “A Spark on Burned Mountain.” The San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, 21 Oct. 2019, https://projects.sfchronicle.com/2019/kincade-fire-origin/.
Kqed. “What You Need to Know: Sonoma County’s Kincade Fire.” KQED, 7 Nov. 2019, https://www.kqed.org/news/11782314/what-you-need-to-know-sonoma-countys-kincade-fire.
Serrano, Alejandro, et al. “53,000 PG&E Customer Accounts Remained without Power Wednesday Night.” SFChronicle.com, San Francisco Chronicle, 31 Oct. 2019, https://www.sfchronicle.com/california-wildfires/article/Live-updates-Winds-kick-up-Kincade-Fire-flares-14573324.php.
Sweeney, Don. “Santa Rosa Hospitals Evacuate as Kincade Fire Rages to Avoid Repeat of 2017 Escapes.” Sacbee, The Sacramento Bee, 27 Oct. 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/article236710528.html.