The Five Most Destructive Wildfires in Recorded California History: Background information when reading Fire in Paradise

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Fire in Paradise

An American Tragedy

by Alastair Gee, Dani Anguiano

Fire in Paradise by Alastair Gee, Dani Anguiano X
Fire in Paradise by Alastair Gee, Dani Anguiano
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  • First Published:
    May 2020, 256 pages

    Apr 2021, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

The Five Most Destructive Wildfires in Recorded California History

This article relates to Fire in Paradise

Print Review

Satellite view of Camp Fire In Fire in Paradise, authors Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano capture the devastation wrought by the Camp Fire that destroyed the community of Paradise in California on November 8, 2018. California's hot, dry and windy climate makes it particularly susceptible to wildfires. Climate change has exacerbated these conditions, raising temperatures and making the area more prone to drought, which dries out vegetation, resulting in fires that are more expansive.

A 2019 study appearing in Earth's Future reported that California "experienced a fivefold increase in annual burned area" from wildfires between 1972 and 2018. Thus it is no surprise that the five most destructive wildfires in California history, as reported by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, occurred between the 1990s and 2018.

Camp Fire – November 8, 2018

Fire in Paradise narrates the events of the Camp Fire, which started when a downed power line dropped sparks into dry underbrush below. The fire burned through the Northern California towns of Concow and Paradise at a rate of 80 football fields per minute at its peak. The total area burned was 153,336 acres and 85 people were killed. Paradise is still rebuilding over a year later; while the community had a population of about 27,000 before the fire, about 4,000 people live there now, many residing in RVs. In February 2020, the PBS show This Old House aired a 4-part miniseries about rebuilding in Paradise.

Tubbs Fire – October 8, 2017

The Tubbs Fire burned 36,807 acres across Napa, Sonoma and Lake Counties and killed 22 people. It was started by an electrical system and spread in an unpredictable pattern across the area, making it difficult for authorities to track and extinguish it. As with the Camp Fire, calls to evacuate came too late to save many lives and structures. The fire started at night and reached Santa Rosa in the early morning hours, leveling whole neighborhoods, schools, a senior living facility, a mobile home park and more. Both the Camp and Tubbs fires became the subject of lawsuits against electrical company PG&E, which has since filed for bankruptcy.

Tunnel/Oakland Hills Fire – October 19, 1991

The Tunnel Fire started outside of a residence in the Oakland hills in the morning. Firefighters thought the blaze was under control, but it reignited the next day, and since this was a residential area, destruction was immediate and profound. Though only 1,600 acres were burned, 2,900 structures (most of which were people's homes) and 25 lives were lost. In 2015, the city of Oakland was issued a $4 million federal grant for the purpose of cutting down trees that could potentially ignite another wildfire. While this project was criticized by environmental groups, it's worth noting that the Tunnel Fire was the fourth major wildfire to hit this particular part of Oakland, the others occurring in 1923, 1970 and 1980.

Cedar Fire – October 25, 2003

The Cedar Fire began in the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County on October 25 in the early evening after a lost hiker ignited a small blaze to alert rescuers to his location. Carried by the Santa Ana winds, it burned 62,000 acres by 3 a.m. By the time it was extinguished on December 5, a total of 273,246 acres had been burned and 15 people had been killed. The Cedar Fire devastated several communities, including the Barona Indian Reservation and the towns of Cuyamaca and Julian. The hiker responsible for the fire was charged and sentenced to a work furlough program and community service.

Valley Fire – September 12, 2015

The Valley Fire was caused by faulty wiring in an outdoor residential hot tub. It began in Lake County and ultimately spread into Napa and Sonoma Counties. A total of 76,067 acres were burned, with 1,955 structures and four lives lost. Like many other major wildfires, it was exacerbated by winds moving up to 60 mph. The fire was not fully contained until October 15. Lake County was the hardest hit, with over 20,000 residents displaced from their homes. Two years after the fire, Lake County was just starting to rebuild.

Image of Camp Fire acquired from Landsat 8 satellite on November 8, 2018 at approximately 10:45 a.m. local time. Source: NASA

Filed under Nature and the Environment

Article by Lisa Butts

This article relates to Fire in Paradise. It first ran in the May 20, 2020 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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