Los Angeles inferno wraps up 2017’s year of disasters
Thursday, December 07, 2017
There's no rest for the weary, is there? 2017 has been a year of natural disasters related to climate change.
We ended hurricane season barely intact, as Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico are recovering from a string of now-notorious hurricanes. Then, we had the northern California wine country fires in a year when California has witnessed 1 million acres burn — the most in any one year, ever.
But that record number is still growing. Now, the Los Angeles area is up against four fires burning with additional high winds expected. More than 300,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.Embed from Getty Images
Urban studies author Mike Davis describes how these new fires are exceptional because they don't burn "where fire danger traditionally lurks." Instead, they're moving into more populated areas "on the plain, next to a freeway, schools, fast-food outlets — the kind of landscape where most of us live."
Davis has been following the relationship between suburban sprawl and wildfire damage for decades. In his book, "Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster," he explains that Los Angeles' unique identity crisis is shaped by fear of both imminent natural disasters and the socioeconomic inequality that exacerbates disasters.
Even without fires, LA already has a massive social crisis on its hands. It can barely handle an attack on the housing infrastructure due to its homeless problem. In a count last spring, municipal leaders "found 55,188 homeless people living in a survey region comprising most of Los Angeles County, up more than 25 percent from last year."
Moving elsewhere in the U.S. isn't that promising either. More recent statistics show the West Coast's housing crisis has propelled homeless numbers elsewhere. A recent national count found the homeless population is up from last year, at more than a half-million people. This is the first increase in the population since 2010.
Then, consider these four fires; people have good reason to be afraid. The cities of Ventura, Ojai and Santa Paula are victims of the Thomas fire. Four times the size of Manhattan and growing, this fire began Dec. 4, north of Santa Paula and quickly spread due to the forceful Santa Ana winds.
These strong, dry winds move from east to west into Los Angeles and have contributed to the destruction of 180 homes so far, leaving 180,000 people without power. 90,000 acres are said to have burned up in the Thomas Fire.
While "Airmageddon" was used to describe the Wine Country fires, "Carmageddon" aptly describes these unimaginable evacuation conditions.
As of Thursday, people are evacuating in a scramble against time. On Wednesday, Interstate 405 — one of the most densely traveled highways in the U.S. — closed down as fire rages and people are evacuating. Most of it is now reopened, but now the Los Angeles Times reports that sections of the 101 freeway are closed, leaving no open routes between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
WATCH: Dramatic footage shows massive wildfires raging near Interstate 405 in California pic.twitter.com/d8mQp2fhyq— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 6, 2017
Northbound I-405 at Mulholland Drive saw the start of the Skirball Fire. Skirball threatens affluent Bel-Air properties, including the $30 million Murdoch estate and winery — which has been evacuated. It's been reported that part of Murdoch's winery has been scorched.
The nearby Getty Museum is threatened, as well as many other properties including the UCLA campus, which lost power Wednesday. UCLA students have started a petition critical of the university's response to the fire: "The petition argues that the university waited too long to cancel classes and called for administrators to review emergency management procedures."
A third fire, the Creek fire in northeastern San Fernando Valley, has covered 12,000 acres and destroyed 30 homes. Northwest of LA, the Rye fire threatens 5,000 homes.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has shuttered 265 schools through Friday. 2,500 firefighters were on duty in the area Wednesday and other out-of-state fighters — from Colorado, Oregon and other states — are joining them Thursday. Given the magnitude of the fires, it doesn't seem like there's enough machinery to aid efforts: "About 475 engines have been assigned to the fire, along with seven water tenders, 12 helicopters, 29 hand crews and 26 dozers."
Meanwhile, California's color-coded system for wind strength just pushed past red into purple for the first time.
"We've never used purple before," Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told The Associated Press.
Any progress made in containing the fires may be lost as strong winds of 80 mph and no rain are in the forecast.
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