Deeper Dive: California Wildfires

November 3, 2020

We hope you enjoyed this last minute episode while we prepare for next week. Here is some further reading on the topics that made this episode! 

Blue Ridge Fire

Parts of Orange County and San Bernardino County, California went up in flames last week following a day of Santa Ana winds with wind gusts reaching nearly 60 mph. What resulted were two fires that broke out – the Silverado Fire, which burned in the Irvine area, and the Blue RIdge Fire, which spread throughout Chino Hills State Park near our researcher and editor’s home. 

The Blue Ridge Fire is 68% contained as of the morning of Oct. 31, and has burned well over 14,000 acres. Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate their homes in Chino Hills, although none were damaged once all orders were lifted. In total, the blaze has damaged or destroyed 11 structures but how many were residential is unclear. 

Unfortunately this is not new for California. Large wildfires seem to have become the norm for the warmer months in the state, which brings up valid concerns about the role climate change plays in all of it. This fire season has left over 4.1 million acres scorched, significantly surpassing the previous records. 

For further reading on climate change and California wildfires, click here.

Fire-fighter shortage

On top of the record-breaking season, COVID-19 has brought new challenges for first responders and has shed light on the state’s reliance on prison labor. 

California currently allows certain inmates to join a fire academy and fight fires for very little pay. We aren’t talking minimum wage or even close to it. They get paid between $2 and $5 a day, and only one dollar for every hour they are on a fire. However, the breakout of COVID-19 in prisons prompted the early release of certain, mostly non-violent offenders. These offenders also tend to be the ones who are eligible for the firefighting program, presenting the shortage in firefighters for this California fire season. 

Additionally, these prison firefighters, although they have the capability and experience, are often unable to make firefighting a career once they are released. This is because convicted felons tend to be denied positions due to their criminal record regardless of their experience while in prison. 

This has sparked much debate in California regarding its practice of prison labor, one which has now contributed to the state’s struggle with wildfires. 

Read more about the prison firefighter shortage here. 

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