Between record-breaking heat that Gov. Gavin Newsom attributes to climate change and lightning strikes sparking fires in the forest brush, more than 4 million acres of California land have burned in 2020, including the state’s very first “Gigafire.”
Los Angeles County is still battling the Bobcat Fire that has burned through 115,796 acres of the Angeles National Forest and destroyed 87 homes. The blaze is now at 92 percent containment, but not before a month-long battle that saw as many as 1,600 personnel joining the fight.
For communities in the Antelope Valley that have been impacted by the #BobcatFire, our Occupancy Support Program will begin tomorrow. Details about this program can be at https://t.co/291zRYJoFG.#LACoFD pic.twitter.com/hrXw3vIcRW
— L.A. County Fire Department (@LACoFDPIO) September 24, 2020
The Bobcat Fire started near Azusa on September 6, after 200 acres had already burned. Officials from the Unified Incident Command of the Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Monrovia Fire Department and the L.A. County Sheriffs said the fire moved quickly and by the end of that first day, it had burned through more than 1,800 acres.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke on the record-breaking fire season, saying, “The climate crisis isn’t some far off threat — it’s here at our doorstep. How we rise to confront it will determine our very survival.”
As the Bobcat Fire continued to push through terrain in the San Gabriel Valley, it remained at zero percent containment for five consecutive days. In that span, foothill communities in Duarte, Bradbury, Monrovia, Arcadia, Sierra Madre, Pasadena and Altadena were all given evacuation warnings, being asked to have evacuation plans in place with emergency supplies and personal belongings packed. Those evacuation orders were eventually lifted as crews were able to corral the fire before reaching the San Gabriel Valley homes.
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Fears of the Santa Ana winds pushing the fire closer to communities never materialized, as the winds instead pushed the fire north, helping fire crews along the way.
By September 11, fire crews consisting of more than 500 personnel, using 50 engines, two aircrafts, five dozers and five water tenders brought the fire to 6 percent containment, a number that stood for four days and eventually went down to 3 percent as the fire “outpaced containment,” according to the Angeles National Forest.
Thick smoke from the Bobcat Fire billowed down throughout the county, forcing a smoke advisory that declared the air quality unhealthy and in some cities, hazardous. L.A. County residents were asked to avoid outdoor activities, especially for children, older adults and sensitive groups.
“It is difficult to tell where smoke, ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of these particles in the air, so we ask everyone to remember that smoke and ash can be harmful to health, even for people who are healthy,” Muntu Davis, Health Officer for Los Angeles County said. “If you can see smoke, soot or ash, or you can smell smoke, pay attention to your immediate environment and take precautions to safeguard your health.”
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The Bobcat Fire is part of a record-breaking 4 million acres that have burned throughout California this fire season. In comparison, 118,000 acres had burned in California by this same time in 2019.
“This is the largest fire season in terms of total acreage impacted we’ve had in some time,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “You put it in comparison terms … to last year, it’s rather extraordinary, the challenge that we’ve faced so far this season.”
While the source of the Bobcat Fire is still being investigated, Southern California Edison believes it could have been started by a malfunction in its utility equipment, according to the Associated Press.
Edison is working with federal investigators and has turned in the equipment in question.
The August Complex in California currently sits at 993,191 acres and only 54% containment. This fire will, in all likelihood, hit 1,000,000 acres this week. pic.twitter.com/m5i7cemSH5
— Steven W. Koehn (@StevenWKoehn) October 5, 2020
Outside of L.A. County, Northern California is experiencing the largest fire in California history. As of this writing, the August Complex Fire has burned more than 1 million acres, becoming the first “Gigafire” in modern history. The fire has burned for nearly two months and was ignited by lightning strikes on August 16, according to CAL Fire.
“If that’s not proof point, testament, to climate change, then I don’t know what is,” Newsom said of the million-acre fire.
After California recorded its highest temperature of all time at 137 degrees in Death Valley this August, and Los Angeles County felt a record high temperature of 121 degrees on September 6 in Woodland Hills, Newsom reiterated his ongoing sentiment that climate change is “self-evident.”
AZ Firefighters are again lending a helping hand to our neighbors in CA as the August Complex Fire now surpasses 1 million acres in the Mendocino and Shasta-Trinity National Forests.@T1SWIMT is deploying to provide air support.
📸 Cal Fire#azfamily pic.twitter.com/G7JIdptuUI
— Kim Quintero (@KimQuintero) October 5, 2020
President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 in order to assess the fire season himself. In a meeting to discuss the fires, Newsom looked to find “an area of commonality” with the president, as Trump said he believed the culprit was vegetation management, not climate change. California Secretary for Natural Resources, Wade Crowfoot, emphasized that the science of climate change cannot be ignored, to which Trump responded, “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” Crowfoot then responded with, “I wish the science agreed with you,” to which Trump said, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
Despite the differing opinions, Newsom continued that California needed more federal help, with 57 percent of California being federal forest land, to which President Trump said, “I’m all for it. That’s something I feel strongly about.”
“We really need that support,” Newsom said to Trump. “We need that emphasis of engagement and we are fully committed to working with you to advance that cause.”
Continuing his emphasis on climate change, on September 23, Newsom turned to the automobile industry, signing an order that would ban the sale of all gas cars by 2035, saying, “ Cars shouldn’t give our kids asthma, make wildfires worse, melt glaciers, or raise sea levels.”
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🔥 9/11/20 P.M. #BobcatFire Update 🔥 The Bobcat Fire remains at 26,368 acres with 6% containment. Fire crews remain focused on strengthening containment lines to halt forward progression on the fire as it makes its way south toward the foothill communities. The evacuation warning remains in effect for residents living in Monrovia, Arcadia, Bradbury, Sierra Madre, Altadena, Duarte, and Pasadena. Residents are reminded to be on heightened alert and ready for evacuations. Our response efforts take community action and cooperation; preparation and prevention go hand-in-hand. We encourage and rely on our residents to do their part to be prepared with the Ready! Set! Go! Wildfire Action Plan available for download at fire.lacounty.gov/RSG. For incident updates, follow @Angeles_NF and @LACoFDPIO on Twitter. Additional information can be found online at https://go.usa.gov/xGkmW and fire.lacounty.gov. #LACoFD 📸 @lacofireairops
Since then, Newsom has frequently noted the connection between gas cars, climate change, how it has affected California weather and in turn, the wildfires that burn through the state every year.
“Climate change isn’t something to address in the distant future,” Newsom said. “The climate crisis is here.”