A Country on Fire
In 2020, the US experienced a record number of wildfires; more than 50,000 wildfires burned 8.8 million acres, consuming more than 2 million acres beyond the 10-year average and nearly double the wildfires in 2019. As fire conditions intensified in Northern California, U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly update compiled by several federal agencies, said 75% of California was experiencing drought-like conditions. Wildfires burned across a dozen states, where more than 100 large fires burned more than 5 million acres. Some 9,600 fires in the state scorched more than four million acres of land in California, displaced tens of thousands of people and caused the deaths of dozens of individuals while destroying more than 10,400 structures. New wildfires continued to break out beyond the official end of the fire season. The Airport Fire started on December 1 in Riverside county and burned 1,087 acres, before being contained. The Bond Fire started on December 2 in Orange county and burned 7,375 acres. Significant fires in California that had been previously contained: the CZU /Lightning Complex (San Mateo, Santa Cruz counties); the LNU Lightning Complex (Lake, Sonoma, Napa, Solano counties); and the SCU Lightning Complex (Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara counties). The August Complex Fire, the largest in California’s history, consumed more than 817,000 acres. The Glass Fire destroyed wineries and many homes in Napa Valley. Another fire, the Bobcat fire raged in Los Angles County.
Hundreds of homes, businesses and other buildings burned to the ground, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to evacuate as hot, dry and windy weather across the West left parts of California, Oregon and Washington under siege from this unprecedented 2020 fire season. And then massive fires emerged in Colorado. The Cameron Peak Fire was the largest in the state’s history. Entire communities were obliterated in some states while smoke and ash made the air dangerous to breathe. The fires have been described as “apocalyptic” as the threats from climate change become all too real for many residents of the three states. At the same time, California was also working to slow a resurgence of the Global COVID Pandemic.
Americares Emergency Team responded and our team is still working in the state on training and disaster preparedness.
CalFire firefighters from Santa Cruz work to contain fire near a home on Bonny Doon Road while fighting the CZU August Lightning Complex fire in Bonny Doon northwest of Santa Cruz. The fire was sparked by lightning and has burned throughout broad regions of rural San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. (Photo by David Royal)