On November 8, 2018 a wildfire tore through the town of Paradise, California, forcing the evacuation of nearly 52,000 people. Known as the Camp Fire, the wildfire took just 24 hours to destroy the entire town – all of its homes and businesses. For a town of over 26,000 residents, the Camp Fire was devastating. The fire killed at least 85 and injured 17, including five firefighters. It was also the costliest single natural disaster in the world for insurers in 2018, according to a report by German reinsurance firm Munich RE.
The smoke from the Camp Fire resulted in air pollution that spread across the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Valley, prompting the public schools and business to close from the Bay Area to the Sacramento region for close to a week after the fires began. Days later smoke after traveling in the upper atmosphere over 3,000 miles, smoke plumes from the fires were visible as far away as New York City.
Dr. John Balmes, a physician who serves on the California Air Resources Board stated that the fire resulted in the worst air pollution the Bay Area and northern California had ever experienced, and in fact, during the week of the fires, the air quality index in San Francisco and Sacramento was the highest of anywhere in the world, higher than any city in China, India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, all known for extremely poor air quality.
With the impact of a warmer climate due to the climate crisis, wildfires are not only becoming more common, they are becoming commonplace.
But while the Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history and the sixth deadliest wildfire in U.S. history, it may not be an anomaly. With the impact of a warmer climate due to the climate crisis, wildfires are not only becoming more common, they are becoming commonplace. In Southern California, winter had always been seen as wildfire season, but this has now become a year-round threat, particularly as we see drought conditions more frequently.
Unfortunately, with this greater threat of wildfires and wildfire smoke, comes a direct threat to other small and medium-sized communities across the Western United States. Earlier this week, the Arizona Republic and USA Today released a comprehensive report highlighting 526 communities across the Western United States with fewer than 15,000 households that face a wildfire danger greater than that faced by Paradise.
Based on their analysis of the wildfire threat, Paradise had a score of 3.81. Across the Western U.S., 526 small communities have a higher threat score. The Arizona Republic-USA Today report also examined the limitations on evacuating residents effectively by determining the ratio of households to major exit routes. According to the report “Paradise had six potential escape routes. That meant an estimated 1,818 households using each route during a mass evacuation.”
There are 10 communities in Los Angeles County,… 27 communities in Riverside County, 11 communities in San Bernardino County, 13 communities in San Diego County, [and] 1 community in Santa Barbara County… facing very high wildfire threats.
BREATHE California of Los Angeles County (BREATHE LA) has taken the data from the report and developed charts on all the Southern California communities that have a higher wildfire threat score than Paradise.
We found that there are 10 communities in Los Angeles County, 0 communities in Imperial County, 27 communities in Riverside County, 11 communities in San Bernardino County, 13 communities in San Diego County, 1 community in Santa Barbara County, and 0 communities in Ventura County included among the 526 small communities facing very high wildfire threats. And many have very high evacuation constraint ratios as well.
Our chart includes all of the data included in the Arizona Republic-USA Today report, and I encourage you to refer to that report for a better understanding of their methodology and results.