California wildfires: Nothing but ‘ash and bones’
“Jan Pascoe and her husband, John, were trapped,” said Robin Abcarian in the Los Angeles Times. “The world was on fire, and Jan was hyperventilating from fear. Then they remembered their neighbors’ pool.” The retired Northern California couple spent the next six hours hiding from the roaring inferno under the water, hearing things explode, holding T-shirts over their faces “to protect themselves from embers when they surfaced for air.” When the wall of flames finally passed, everything was incinerated—their car, their home, the neighborhood. After one of the worst wildfires in state history, “the horrific scale of death and destruction is coming into focus,” said Lisa Bonos in The Washington Post. At least 41 people were killed in Napa, Sonoma, Yuba, and Mendocino counties, many of them elderly people trapped in their homes, with no official warning of the approaching hellfire. Another 235 remain missing, and 5,700 businesses and homes have been reduced to charred rubble. In the ruins, authorities are finding “nothing more than ash and bones.”
“Big deadly fires are nothing new to California,” said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. But several factors combined to turn these wildfires into a catastrophe: “ Diablo” winds “so strong they knocked down power lines”; a six-year drought followed by record precipitation that triggered an abundant growth of combustible material. Then came the hottest summer on record, drying out that growth. All that was needed was a spark to set the region ablaze. As the flames spread, communication failed, said Breena Kerr in CNN.com. Sonoma County officials decided not to send a cellphone alert, fearing it would cause “mass panic.” Many residents only woke because they smelled smoke or heard neighbors frantically banging on their doors—giving them just minutes to escape.
Welcome to the new normal, said Kevin Loria in BusinessInsider.com. Last week’s blaze caps “a disturbingly destructive and long wildfire season” across the West, where more than 50,000 fires have burned 8.5 million acres so far in 2017— nearly double the acreage burned over the first nine months of 2016. “Urban sprawl means that more people live closer to wildfire-prone forests than ever before,” while climate change creates the perfect hot and dry conditions for wildfires. In coming months and years, we’re in for a “nonstop fight against blaze after blaze.”