Firefighters are battling a massive blaze under increasingly challenging conditions in California. The Rocky fire, burning north of San Francisco, had already destroyed 39 homes and expanded to 68,300 acres as of Wednesday, August 5, and showed no signs of stopping.
At that time, firefighters estimated it was only about 20% contained. The flame started on July 29, and has advanced past numerous containment lines — even jumping a highway.
Losses may continue as hot and dry conditions have replaced rain, allowing the fire to behave more unpredictably.
“This fire wants to do whatever it wants,” Cal Fire spokesman Jason Shanley said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It’s defying all odds. Thirty-year, 40-year veterans have never seen this before.”
The Rocky fire isn’t the only one plaguing California, either; 23 other fires are also burning in the state, causing Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency. More than 10,000 firefighters are currently working to contain the rash of fires.
The cause of the Rocky fire is still under investigation, and it’s possible lightning was involved (thousands of lightning strikes have started fires in just the past week, according to officials). Still, it’s worth noting that humans and human-installed technology are, far and away, the most frequent cause of wildfires.
While that’s a sobering reality, it’s also an empowering one; if humans cause wildfires, they can also prevent them.
Easy changes involve not throwing cigarette butts out of car windows and only building campfires in permitted areas. Residents should also be aware of what they do in their own backyards; equipment sparks can easily ignite a fire, and those fires can quickly get out of control in the dry conditions caused by California’s historic drought.
It’s smart to be mindful when grilling, too. Data collected for 2007 to 2011 show that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 8,800 home and outdoor fires associated with grill use.
So while Smokey Bear may be exaggerating in stating that only you can prevent wildfires, there are certainly many steps people can take toward preventing devastating fires.