Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana students affected by California Wildfires


Californians have been facing wildfires for over two weeks now, with 87 people confirmed dead (as of Nov. 25) and now about 500 missing. Wendy Kelley from Admissions says Augustana has 18 students from California.

Matthew Fockler, assistant Professor of Geography, grew up a few miles from the border of California and wrote his dissertation on “how forest management agencies managed their landscapes for things like wildfire.”

He explains that there were annual fires, and they can be explained by how much rain they’d receive during the seasons. A wet winter, he says, would mean they’d have enough water for the summer but that they would have more fires later on: “the water would encourage a lot of fuel growth (grasses, timber etc.) that would dry out in the summer months.”

When the Forest Service would throw in so many supplies to “control” and “contain” the fire, it helped for the moment, but it left a “huge backlog of fuel in our forests. When you add climate change to that, and the fact that more and more people live near these beautiful forest landscapes, we’re left with tinder-box forests and extremely dangerous situations.”

Jordyn Strange, a sophomore from California, says she has never seen a fire this bad: “It’s very scary being away from home with my best friends, who are like family to me being so near the fires…there’s nothing I can do while 2,000 miles away in Illinois.” Her friends go to school in Chico, where the Camp Fire is. That fire has burned over 153,000 acres and containment isn’t expected until November 30 according to ABC.

Strange continues, “Firefighters usually let the fires that spark in those parks burn as it is good for the rejuvenation of the environment until the fire starts threatening the lives of people.”

Since California is hot and dry, fires are not uncommon. Maddie McCobb, Junior, explains that there needs to be “more awareness for wildfires and how and why they happen. Southern California suffers from these wildfires every year, but in the last few years the damage has been worse and worse and nothing is ever done about it.”

Rain hit the state late last week, and helped extinguish some fires, but some worry that it may make finding remains difficult.

McCobb’s family was affected by the Woolsey Fire in Ventura County. She says she and her family were evacuated from their home because the fire was spreading across the street. “We thought we were going to lose our house… however that night the evacuation order was lifted and our home was okay thanks to the firefighters.”

She says it was difficult being away from home: “My friends from home [were] texting me updates which was almost worse than actually being there because I just had to wait and wonder.”

Fockler says that blaming forest management like President Trump has done is not what needs to be done to help the fires. “Instead, we need to change the way we think about fire in our landscapes. First, we need to understand that forest fires will be a significant part of our lives for the foreseeable future. Once we accept that, we can develop more resilient ways to live with fire.

“We need to adapt our living spaces to accept that fire is a part of our landscapes. That means accepting that it is a hazard and prepare for the eventuality of a wildfire. That means we have to develop realistic, efficient and useful evacuation plans for when a fire happens.

“Cities need to work with residents to create defensible spaces by eliminating brush, weeds and overhanging branches – thereby creating fuel breaks that will allow the fire to burn outside of the residential property but not impact that property. In other words, we need to recognize the fact that fire is here to stay – and will only get worse. We need to change the way we think about fire – it isn’t something to be controlled. Instead, we need to think about how we can live with it.”

Kelley says, “Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the recent fires.”

There are many ways to help those affected, including donating money to the Wildfire Relief Fund or at the RedCross. Remember to always investigate the organizations before donating.

Wildfire Relief Fund:

Cover by Kevin Donovan.

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    G. ScottNov 30, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    another editorial, disguised in a story. There are many more EXPERTS that agree with Trump’s comments. Having been involved in forestry and been in fires, I can without hesitation say the intensity of the California fires is a direct result of extremely reckless policies put in place by the Democrat leadership and governance of California. The amount of fuel allowed to build up shows disdain for the forests and the citizens of California. The Camp fire (NorCal) could have been extinguished within moments after it started, as it was spotted by a nearby business that has fire fighting aircraft. Unfortunately, Cal regulations forbid single engine aircraft from fighting fires in California. (He contracts with neighboring states). So when he offered to attack the fire, he was told no. Thousands of structures destroyed, thousands of lives devastated needlessly because of reckless regulations and an administration that cares little for the citizenry and bows to the unions.

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Augustana students affected by California Wildfires