After experiencing a record-breaking heat wave this past week, wildfires have now begun to plague California, spreading in the Napa and Sonoma Counties as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. Massive plumes of smoke have settled above mountaintops, fouling the air quality and endangering public health. As California continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and unforeseen weather conditions, firefighters bear the brunt of the state’s unpredictable climate.
In a recent statement, California Governor Gavin Newsom and local fire officials stated that “the state’s firefighting resources are overextended.” Firefighters have been taking on 72-hour shifts, with little time for breaks or any frontline support. With the state’s resources dwindling lower and lower, California has officially appealed for aid not only from neighboring states but from the entire country. Unfortunately, due to the current pandemic, front lines and firetrucks can no longer carry more than one to two people, leaving these workers with little support when facing massive fires. The urgency of firefighting often leaves sanitation and health protocols as an afterthought, resulting in many workers to ignore COVID-19 precautions in the face of danger.
Wildfires have already torn through around 350,000 acres of land, forcing nearby residents to evacuate and burning around two-dozen homes. In efforts to support the influx of evacuees whose homes have been compromised, hotels and public housing are beginning to reopen. In addition to displacing people from their homes, the wildfires have also compromised air quality. People in close vicinity to the fires have even found their cars and driveways covered in ash and dust. Most areas in Northern California have passed 150 on the air quality index, making the air dangerously unhealthy to breathe. In context of the current pandemic, breathing in polluted air can compromise ones health and make them more susceptible to contract COVID-19. Respiratory symptoms from the fires and coronavirus can often overlap, so doctors recommend people experiencing these symptoms to isolate themselves as much as possible. Currently, the mass displacement and chaos of the recent fires has left Californians in a state of panic. As time progresses, we must take appropriate precautions to protect one another and commend those on the front lines during these tumultuous times.