California Fires Prompt State of Emergency

California wildfires began last Sunday night interrupting sleeping residents and families in the Napa valley area. According to an article by CNN, since beginning, the fire burned approximately 217,000 acres, destroying an estimated 5,700 structures and killing 40 people — a number expected to rise as searchers move through afflicted Santa Rosa neighborhoods and mountain communities according to a piece in the Los Angeles Times. This outbreak is being declared one of the deadliest in state history.

On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties because of wildfires threatening thousands of homes. Reported an article for NBC, Brown said, that the fires were “one of the greatest if not the greatest tragedy California has ever faced."

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) evacuated an approximated 75,000 people; however, just this morning, the city of Napa lifted its evacuation orders per a tweet from the city’s official page:

Officials also lifted evacuation orders for Calistoga residents east of the Tubbs Fire and those living south of Lake Curry east of the Atlas fire. As of today, the Tubbs fire reached 60 percent containment and the Atlas fire reached 65 percent containment.

“Any day we don’t have flareups and significant fire activity popping up unexpectedly in those communities that are affected is a good day,” said Paul Lowenthal, assistant fire marshal for the Santa Rosa Fire Department in an article from the Los Angeles Times. “I would say today is a step in the right direction.”

The weather conditions, specifically the wind, was a major factor in the firefighting force's ability to control them. Per an article by CNN, the blaze spread more easily due to powerful gusts of 50 mph and hurricane-force gusts of 79 mph reported in Sonoma County. The area was dry with low humidity and no rain which allowed the blaze to spread quickly.

California is often prone to fires this time of year, but the fires that began last week are some of the worst in recent history. An article from the Washington Post said the state’s fire season runs from spring to late fall — October is one of the worst months. Unlike other parts of the United States, California does not experience storms during its summer months.

The state emerged from a three-year long drought with the result being more vegetation. In the summer months, the record breaking heat of the season turned the thriving plant life into tinder-like vegetation for fuel. Per Daniel Swain’s twitter, it was the hottest summer on record:

According to the National Weather Advisory (NWC), conditions are set to improve more in the coming week. Winds died down this weekend and the area should see rain toward the end of the week.

With weather conditions expected to improve, the roughly 10,000 firefighters spread thinly throughout California, are concentrating forces on the Nuns fire which is still only 30 percent contained. Reinforcements from other regions arrived to help relieve those on the front lines. Cal Fires requested additional fire engines and personnel from other states to help relieve crews and to prepare for the possibility of more blazes. According to their tweet, the state received aid from 17 states and Australia.

In an interview with CNN, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann praised his team’s hard work and commitment to the cause: “It’s like pulling teeth to get law enforcement and firefighters to disengage from what they’re doing out there — they’re truly passionate about what they’re doing to help the public. But the reinforcements are coming in, and that’s why you’re seeing the progress that we’re making.”

Other cities throughout the Bay Area not affected by the blaze still suffered from suffered from a high Air Quality Index (AQI) this past week. A tweet from NASA showed the smoke as being visible a million miles away from Earth.

The air conditions which fell into Red, Unhealthy Level during the week. A Red Level means “Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.” The index ranges from 0- 50 (good) to 301- 500 (hazardous).“Unhealthy” levels Thursday and Friday, prompted schools in the Pittsburg, Vallejo City, Benicia, John Swett, West Contra Costa, Martinez Unified, Mount Diablo and Antioch Unified School Districts to close.

Schools are back in session this week as the fires move toward containment and the air quality returns to normal.

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