Forest fires in October are a reality for places like California. After the typically hot summer months, much of the trees, bushes, and grasses can become like tinder. (Tinder is dry wood or paper used to start a fire.) Autumn brings dry, high winds that can easily spread and grow the smallest fires into full-blown blazes.
But this October is different. The year's California wildfires are burning with an intensity and size that is shocking locals. Residents are reporting being surprised by lightning-fast fires that leave them little more than ten minutes to flee their homes.
Firefighters have been overwhelmed by 17 large wildfires across the state. Put together, the fires cover about 465 sq. km (115,000 acres), which is larger than the entire city of San Jose. Thousands of people have been evacuated. Basic services like water, electricity, and cellphone service have been lost in many areas. The fires are found everywhere from the very top of the state all the way down to south of Los Angeles.
Napa and Sonoma counties devastated
The worst hit area is Northern California, especially Napa and Sonoma Counties. Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, is reporting entire neighbourhoods completely destroyed. All that is left are the chimneys and scattered remains of the homes. Even cars and barbecues have been melted by the intense heat. The scenes are very similar to what happened last summer in Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Protecting the population
If there is any silver lining so far, it is that very few people have died (though around 200 people are reported missing). Firefighters and law enforcement are working to protect some of the country's largest and most famous cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, from the flames. Wildfires are currently both just north of San Francisco and in the Anaheim Hills, near Orange County (this is a part of the L.A. metropolitan area and home of Disneyland).
Firefighters are using everything from helicopters and 747 firefighter aircrafts to drop water on the flames. Elsewhere, bulldozers and shovels are used to build barriers to the fires.
Much like in British Columbia this summer, the only real cures for this year's California wildfires may be patience, persistence, and kindness.