The California Wildfires and the Disaster That Followed

Brendan Byrne ‘22

The year 2020 has been anything but ideal for our country of America, throwing us into the mix with innumerable hardships and conflicts that are all tied together with one incredibly unneat, tattered, and impossible to untie bow. One of the primary issues currently plaguing our nation is the horrific situation that is the California Wildfires. While California as a state always has a prominent wildfire season, and is something that residents of California deal with on an annual basis, it has never gone on for this long or grown to such an uncontrollable extent. The wildfires have caused disaster beyond imagination, and have ruined the lives of thousands. Not only this, but it has left an irreparable dent on many factors of the country and the lives of us who live here.

The primary facet of what made the California Wildfires such a disaster was the environmental effects that it had on the state, and the states adjacent, and even the country as a whole. The wildfire season in California is most often caused by a buildup of dried brush and twigs, various dead plantlife that gathered on the forest floors. Usually by a single untended fire, or a strike of lightning, a spark is set off that turns eventually into a blaze. This is a natural part of the environmental cycle, and while in the past it has caused damage, usually it was in order to keep the environment functioning. As it’s said, from the ashes rises new life, and this rings true in the world of nature for new plantlife can grow from the burn, the ground being newly fertilized and fresh. The ground is clear from obstructive debris and competition for nutrients. Trees can grow stronger and new plants can have the new nourished soil and sunlight to feed off of. The severity of the wildfires this season rendered nearly all of these things null and void. The fires ripped through all sorts of life in the forests, burning down whole sections of trees and even spreading into less rural areas where people had made their homes, destroying what had been built as relentlessly as it destroyed the world of nature. The worst part of all of this was the effect that it had on the air quality in California and the states adjacent, degrading it to a record low that hadn’t been seen since the early 1900s. With all of this ash in the air, clouding the sky and squeezing out the oxygen, the toll was taken on plant life and environmental health across such a vast area. Various opinions on what caused the severity of these wildfires are spread throughout the environmental protection world. Andrew R. Wheeler, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has made claims that poor forest management was to blame, and has a track record of denying important facets of climate change. Other environmental activists however blame climate change. Noted by weather records from various organizations, many areas have had the hottest summer they’ve had in decades, possibly even ever, and this can be traced back to global warming and climate change in general. It would be no surprise if this violent climate change was exactly the cause for the severity of the fires. Whatever the cause however, it’s impossible to ignore the severity of the environmental damage.

Environmental disaster encompasses a lot of what makes the California Wildfires so disastrous this year, however it is not the only disaster associated with the situation taking place. One of the hottest topics of discussion this year, being the election year, and a year of such general turmoil, is politics. Politics and politicians have made many of the situations that America, and the world as a whole, is facing, far more complicated than necessary. Politicization of issues that should be considered either common sense, or sense for the common good, has ruined many discussions and potential solutions, and has led to a very split and incredibly partisan nation. The two most important political opinions at hand are of course those of President Donald Trump, and former Vice President, and current presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Donald Trump spoke at multiple conferences in interviews where he was questioned on his thoughts towards the California Wildfires.

As any person should, he did offer his opinion, and showed respect and reverence to the families who’d lost so much in the horrible disaster. Trump however still continued to reject the claims that the Wildfires were caused by climate change, which could be seen as a political strategy from multiple perspectives. It could be seen as a way to remain faithful to his initial voters, who often agreed with him on such topics, or it could be seen as a way to show steadfastness in his beliefs. Along with this, it could be simple stubbornness, but at times it’s impossible to ignore the idea that the way he phrases things, especially in regards to such a disaster, is uncomfortably political in its nature. He seems to bolster himself and what he’s been doing, and appears to continue to be fighting for the vote, assumedly like a politician would. When it comes to Biden, much of the same in regards to politicization hidden under every spoken word, can be said. Biden made a bold and interesting claim at a speech on September 14th where he stated that President Trump’s “climate denial may not have caused these fires and hurricanes”. This statement is surprising merely for the fact that these two men come across as such clear enemies, and so Biden coming to a half-defense in Trump’s beliefs raises questions that might be considered irrelevant, but are still interesting. What he says next though shows that, even to him, this is still about politics. He claims that Trump’s reaction had exacerbated the issues, which is his attempt to turn people away from Trump by calling out his apparently poor response to the Wildfires.

Politics often becomes an obsession with those in the practice of it. Career politicians build their lives around constructing the perfect persona, the ultimate person of the people who could be elected to any office. It is a career politicians job to monitor themselves and everything they do, while still fighting for their opinion and agenda. When a career politician with decades of experience, comes face to face with an inexperienced politician who’d spent his life working in the economic world, it creates an overwhelming tension that causes both sides to fight tooth and nail for the victory on November 3rd, an overwhelming tension that will lead to this inherent politicization of issues that should be viewed from a humanitarian perspective.

The most personally devastating factor of the California Wildfires, the one that any of us could potentially identify with, is the devastating factor of loss. While the situation of the wildfires may have damaged the environment of the states and the country, and the handling of the situation by those in power may have damaged the reputation of our country in the eyes of many, what seems most damaging to us on an emotional level is how the lives of each individual person were affected. So many lost their homes in this great disaster, lost everything that they had likely spent their life working for, in only a couple of hours, thanks to the unrelenting force that fire is known for. A home being lost is such a shaking and horrifying concept to many of us, something that some of us may not even be able to identify with because we simply can’t understand the idea of such a shocking and great loss. Even along with this, people lost family pets, and even family members to this fire. Some things were simply unable to be saved, and some people may never be able to recover. It’s heartbreaking to know that people have lost not only their histories, but their lives, to the unexpected catastrophe of these fires.

Truly, the disaster of the wildfires stretches far beyond the surface level of destruction and damage to our planet. The raging fires caused damage that stretched beyond the physical, beyond the practical, and even beyond what we are able to comprehend as people who haven’t experienced such tragedy. The issues highlighted in the California Wildfires are representative of a lot of the struggles that we as American citizens, and citizens of the world, have struggled with this year. Through great losses, embarrassments, and total derealization, we’ve been put through the wringer time and time again, and we see this showcased more prominently in very few situations than the California Wildfires. Such issues need more press, they need to be spoken about and awareness needs to be raised about them. Activism for our environment, and for the people who are hurt by the world and its disasters, is more important now than it ever was before, as climate change worsens and worsens, and people are hurt more and more.