Firestorms: Can We Ever Stop Them From Happening?

More than a month ago, my group in the course Fire Investigation and Failure Analysis was tasked to present about a wildfire that happened in Oakland-Berkeley, California less than three decades ago. Unfortunately, as we were preparing for our presentation, a wildfire so huge that it dwarfed our topic was happening at the same State. Time and again, we have seen wildfires all over the world, lots of them. One question came into my mind. Is the occurrence of wildfire a matter in our hands?

2018 Camp Fire in California (Photo by Washington Post)

The fire, dubbed as the Camp Fire, is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the history of California. The fire which started on November 8, 2018 and was 100% contained only on November 25, 2018 burned 62,000 hectares of land, destroyed nearly 14,000 houses, left more than 200 persons missing, and killed 85 persons [1]. It was believed to be caused by a spark in one of the electricity transmission lines [2]. Same as with the Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm of October 1991, the conditions of low humidity, high-speed wind, and dry fuel present during the autumn season aggravated the situation.

Property Damages Caused by 2018 Camp Fire (Photo by UPI)

A firestorm is a type of fire that is so huge that it can create its own wind system which can further increase the burning rate of the fire itself. Surely, we cannot do something directly to the environmental conditions except for cutting on our carbon footprint to reduce the rising global temperature and the effect of abnormal weather changes. However, we can reduce the fuel load by proper waste management. We can reduce flame spread into the structures by using fire-resistant materials. We can reduce the probable sources of ignition by regular maintenance of our power lines and by always being careful of what we burn in an open area.

Firefighters During the 2018 Camp Fire (Photo by Sputnik International)

Maybe, a lesson for us is that when nature strikes back, it can be painful or, worse, deadly. The challenge for us is to adapt while not making the situation worse. When I was reading the US Fire Administration report for our presentation, this quote about the Oakland-Berkeley wildfire struck me: “…a fire that demonstrates how natural forces may be beyond the control of human intervention and should cause a renewed look at the risk of wildland-urban inter­face fire disasters.” To answer the question in the title, in my opinion, we can’t but we can be resilient.

References:

[1] “Deadly California wildfire now 100% contained.” [Online]. Available: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/25/deadly-california-wildfire-now-100percent-contained.html. [Accessed: 01-Dec-2018].

[2] “Utility emailed woman about problems 1 day before fire.” [Online]. Available: https://www.apnews.com/d35f16e96afc4482bf10909d2e52fbfa. [Accessed: 01-Dec-2018].

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