Saturday 10 November 2018

Wildfires kill at least nine in California.

Nine people have been confirmed dead in California this week and thousands more have been made homeless, as two major wildfires sweep across parts of the state. All of the confirmed deaths occurred in the town of Paradise in Butte County, which was largely destroyed by the Camp Fire, which started in the Plumas National Forest on Thursday and rapidly spread to the town, where it is reported to have destroyed about 90% of the buildings. So far five people have been found dead in vehicles in the town, three in buildings and one outside, though another 35 people are currently missing, so it is highly likely that the number of dead will climb.

Burned out vehicles near Paradise, California, after the town was destroyed by a wildfire on Friday 9 November 2018. Peter Desilva/EPA.

Elsewhere in the state the Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire have caused extensive damage to the communities of Thousand Oaks, Casabias and Malibu, though there are no reports of any casualties due to prompt evacuations of the areas affected. Around a quarter of a million people have been evacuated from their homes across the state.

A wildfire burning in Malibu, California, this week. Reuters.

The fires have a variety of causes and have been fuelled by dry winds blowing from the mountains in the northeast of the state, but are essentially due to a prolonged drought in the state, which has been experiencing dry conditions since 2011, the longest such drought in the state's recorded history. This drought has killed vegetation, including thousands of trees, across much of central California, providing dry tinder to fuel the fires, despite high rainfall that caused flooding in parts of the state in the winter of 2016-7. The draught has been made worse by the diversion of water to suit Human purposes, such as agriculture, industry and leisure, which has taken water away from other ecosystems, resulting in the build-up of dead, dry vegetation that has produced fuel for the fires.

 The extent of fires burning in California on Saturday 10 November 2018. Google/Esri/NASA/BBC.

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