Opinion by Max Talwar, Jackson Deutch, Chris Donnelly (Menlo School Chapter)
Image source: The New York Times
If one were to venture outside on most parts of the West Coast, they would be greeted with a thick haze of smoke. In the past few weeks, California has been plagued by Wildfires that have spread at unprecedented rates. This begs the question: How did a stream of wildfires that has caused “the worst fire season in the history of California” begin? More importantly, how have these wildfires been handled by government authorities? The Wildfires can be traced back to mid-August during a night where without the protection of moisture, over 10,000 dry lightning strikes matched with arid and hot land created the perfect kindling for a fire. While moisture accompanied by lightning strikes generally doesn't cause wildfires, the lack of moisture is what allows for the sparks of lightning to grow. While many Wildfires have been linked to the lightning strikes, there have also been drastic cases of irresponsibility and lack of involvement both within government, and the public.
It’s important to have some historical context: California wildfires are not novel disasters that are suddenly sweeping across the coastal landscape. California has always been highly prone to wildfires because of its arid climate. During the winter and fall months, California greenery, soil, and foliage gather most of their moisture. Later during the summer and fall, the vegetation becomes increasingly dehydrated due to a lack of rain and moisture. While in some cases, this may not be singularly enough to cause a massive fire, certain mistakes like power line collapses (such events are one of the root causes of wildfires and helped propagate them in 2018) coupled with such dryness are problematic.
However, the agricultural landscape of California is not what is important. We should be thinking about the inaction and irresponsibility within the public and the government that led to such a large amount of wildfires. Firstly, the El Dorado wildfire that is, as of September 22, only 16% contained and raging across south Los Angeles was caused by a gender-reveal party where, from the footage I’ve seen, a grenade or perhaps a CO2 canister was discharged as the car drove, causing an explosion that set the car’s surroundings ablaze. The family is currently facing fines and possibly incarceration. They could have used other options to reveal their child’s gender such as a cake, or balloons—which would not have been nearly as dangerous. This family clearly had a disregard for the wellbeing and lives of others.
But the fires caused by the general public’s imprudence have only been the tip of the iceberg.
One of the first fires that was caused by the intense spout of dry lightning in August could have been handled in a better way by the government. It is known that the government has resources that can be used to detect wildfires. In fact, many years ago, infrared satellites could detect a smoking cigarette on earth at 10,000 miles. Nearly 50 years later, technology can consistently detect a smoking cigarette from a much greater distance. The government had the resources to detect the coastal wildfires before they expanded. This prompts the question: Why didn’t they? There were a multitude of campaigns from people that supported and participated in volunteer firefighting programs. Not to mention a program that allowed incarcerated convicts to help put out wildfires. While this program was hindered by the spread of COVID-19, I am distrustful that the government had a valid reason to ignore these disasters to such an extent.
From this series of events, it’s clear that the government’s mismanagement matched with public irresponsibility has catalyzed the scourge of wildfires across the West Coast. It’s also important to note that these wildfires aren’t only bad for the environment—they’re also detrimental to human lives. How can we put faith in a system that favors apathy over action?