A combination of record-breaking heat, lightning strikes and a gender reveal party gone wrong have all contributed to more than 3 million acres of California land being burned from wildfires in 2020.
Los Angeles County has seen multiple wildfires spark over the summer, from the Ranch 2 Fire and Lake Fire, to the more recent Bobcat Fire that has left the county covered in smoke in what would have otherwise been a forecast of clear skies and 90-degree sunshine.
The Bobcat Fire started in the Angeles National Forest near Azusa, discovered on September 6 after 200 acres had 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 0% 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. They were also asked to have their cars fueled, pointed outward from the driveway and ready to leave at any moment.
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 has stood four days and eventually went down to 3 percent as the fire “outpaced containment,” according to the Angeles National Forest.
While the fire has continued to grow in acreage by the day, another factor that aided firefighters was burn scars from the previous Ranch 2 Fire, which decreased the intensity on the east side of the blaze.
The Bobcat Fire has now burned more than 38,000 acres of land, forcing evacuations in parts of Arcadia and Sierra Madre, as the blaze slowly made its way down the hills, despite tireless day and night containment efforts from fire crews.
The Santa Anita Racetrack was transformed into an emergency evacuation center, organized by the Red Cross with COVID-19 health protocols in place. There, evacuated citizens were given food, water and an opportunity to assess lodging options.
As of this writing, no structures have been destroyed by the Bobcat Fire.
Thick smoke from the Bobcat Fire billowed down throughout the county, forcing a smoke advisory that declared the air quality unhealthy. 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.”
The Bobcat Fire is part of a record-breaking 3 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.”
California has seen three of its four largest fires ever, with the August Complex Fire surpassing the 2018 Mendocino Fire for most acres burned. The fire continues to burn past 755,603 acres and is at 30 percent contained per Cal Fire.
The Santa Clara SCU Fire is now the third largest in modern California history with 396,000 acres burned, but is 98 percent contained after fire resources from across the state, including L.A. County, were deployed to help with the blaze.
These two fires have produced unhealthy levels of air quality, with the smoke causing the sky to appear to have an eerie dark red tint throughout Bay Area cities.
The LNU Fire in Napa County, which was previously larger than the SCU Fire, is now the fourth largest at 375,000 burned and is also at 98 percent containment, as of this writing.
The infamous El Dorado fire still pushes through San Bernardino County with more than 14,000 acres burned at 44 percent containment. The fire began in the Yucaipa area and while it is currently under investigation, Cal Fire believes it was started by pyrotechnics used in a gender reveal party. Surveillance footage allegedly shows a couple walking onto the grass in the area and lighting up a device, later scurrying to douse the ignited fire with water from water bottles to no avail, according to Cal Fire investigator Capt. Bennet Milloy.
The El Dorado Fire started a day before the Bobcat Fire and while it has not burned as rapidly, it still forced local residents to evacuate with 3,861 structures threatened and six already destroyed.
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.”
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.”