Paradise Lost

California fires claim over 7,000 structures and displace over 270,000 residents

News Urbanism West
The Camp fire has grown into the state’s most destructive blaze and has claimed over 6,000 structures. (NASA Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager/Wikimedia)
The Camp fire has grown into the state’s most destructive blaze and has claimed over 6,000 structures. (NASA Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager/Wikimedia)

A pair of particularly destructive wildfires that burned through the weekend in California have claimed over 7,000 structures and caused a wave of displacement across the state.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the so-called Camp Fire grew to more than 105,000 acres over the weekend as it swept through Butte County in Northern California, devastating the town of Paradise. The fire quickly became the deadliest and largest wildfire in California history over the weekend, a record that has been broken every year for the last three years in a row. The blaze has so far claimed 6,713 structures, including 6,453 homes and 260 commercial buildings. It is expected that close to 15,000 other structures are threatened by the fire, which is currently 20 percent contained.

So far, 31 people have died and over 100 are reported missing.

Reports from the frontlines of the blaze indicate that much of the town has been destroyed, with journalists on the scene fielding calls to check in on particular properties and posting block-by-block surveys of the devastation on social media. It is expected that between 90 and 95 percent of the city was destroyed, leaving its 27,000 residents to seek shelter across the housing-strapped region.

Photo of the Woolsey fire in Malibu

View of the smoke plume from the fast-moving Woolsey Fire outside Los Angeles where wealthy enclaves, including Malibu, burned over the weekend. (Cyclonebiskit/Wikimedia)

In the Santa Monica mountains that ring Los Angeles, the 85,550-acre Woolsey Fire has forced the temporary displacement of over 250,000 people as the cities of Thousand Oaks and Malibu and surrounding mountain communities were evacuated in advance of the fast-moving blaze.

Curbed reported that the fires have threatened several historic Hollywood filming locations and other notable structures located in the scenic mountains, including a replica of the set from the television series M*A*S*H and the recently-restored historic Sepulveda Adobe complex. Distressingly, the fire also reportedly consumed the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a former Rocketdyne laboratory from 1949 that housed experimental nuclear reactors as well as radioactive waste.

Many architecturally-significant structures are also at risk, including important works by Frank Gehry, Wallace Neff, John Lautner, as well as several of the Case Study homes, Curbed reported.

Several of the wealthy areas hit by the fire have seen heavy losses, as well, including the destruction of several celebrity-owned mansions in Calabasas and Malibu. The homes of pop stars Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, and Neil Young and others were destroyed by the inferno, E! Online reported.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Woolsey Fire is 15 percent contained.

Regarding California’s increasingly destructive and lengthening fire season, Governor Jerry Brown told The LA Times, “This is not the new normal; this is the new abnormal.” Brown added, “And this new abnormal will continue certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years. Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify. We have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life, so we’ve got to pull together.”

The fires touched off a series of antagonistic—and “ill-informed”—tweets from President Donald Trump, who erroneously blamed the fires on “gross mismanagement” of the state’s forests. Fire officials instead point to the increasing effects of climate change, as well as growing so-called “wildland-urban interface” zones where human occupation and the state’s natural landscapes come into contact, as key causes for the latest series of conflagrations.

Because the state’s populated urban areas have gradually slowed development and downsized population capacity over the decades, much of the state’s explosive population growth has largely occurred in increasingly-far-flung and precarious areas, where drought-ridden brush is easily combustible and sprawling communities are perfect targets for wind-swept flames.

Crews in the state are working to battle the flames as winds, temperatures, and humidity levels work against their favor. AN will bring more coverage of California’s fires as information becomes available.

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