The smoke-filled skies in San Ramon last month reflected a tragedy of the Butte County Camp Fire.
More than 153,000 acres of land was destroyed, 85 people lost their lives and nearly 14,000 structures were destroyed, making this fire the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history.
The fire raged on for 18 days until it was finally contained on Nov. 23. People throughout the state were affected, including many students and local residents.
“My head and eyes hurt because of the smoke, making it hard to focus on school work,” sophomore Natalia Díaz said.
School became even harder to attend with the unhealthy air quality. Cal High and schools throughout the district turned off all heaters in classrooms so smoke and unhealthy air would not circulate in buildings.
Because of winds carrying smoke from Butte County into the Bay Area, the East Bay had some of the worst air quality in the world for about a week.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) for much of the Bay Area exceeded 200, which is considered very unhealthy.
By comparison, after it rained during Thanksgiving break, the Bay Area’s AQI dropped to around 20. An AQI of less than 50 is healthy air.
As a result of the unhealthy air, students were not allowed to be outside during breaks. Instead, they were stuffed into crowded buildings that were freezing.
School at all Bay Area counties finally had to be canceled on Nov. 16. All outdoor athletic activities, including North Coast Section players, were postponed a few weeks.
Classes were canceled at most college campuses as well. Canceling school in California because of weather is a rarity.
“The last time a full day of school was canceled at Cal High was 2002, and it wasn’t even weather related,” English teacher Regina Lyon said.
School was canceled that day because of a burst pipeline.
Once the smoke and the air quality returned to safer levels, people were led to believe that everything was back to normal. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
A lot of carbon dioxide was released from the fires which can’t be washed away with rain. Since the fires were so recent, it’s hard to say the effects on people’s health.
“The fires are contained, the smoke is gone, and people are still going to the emergency room,” Reveal News investigative reporter Aaron Glantz wrote.
Just last fall, California was hit by the second most destructive fire in its history in Napa and Sonoma counties. Although school wasn’t canceled, smoke from those fires also negatively affected local students.
This begs the question: Are wildfires starting to become a pattern in California?
“The following fall after a wet winter tends to have a bad fire season,” AP Environmental Science teacher Brian Coburn said.
California is no stranger to droughts and the constant absence of water is considered a new norm to many. On the rare occasion that it rains, that rain is usually packed into one season: winter.
Since winter has the only good amount of rainfall, California starts its long dry season until fall, when it reaches its driest point. That’s when a small fire can turn wild, but not without other factors.
“Added brush and debris that has accumulated from years of fire suppressions allows ground fires to jump to crown fires, the most devastating fires,” AP Environmental Science teacher Dina Anderson said.
All of the destruction the Camp Fire caused creates more debris for future fires to burn, so California might be in an awful fire pattern.
Sadly, hundreds of people who used to live in Paradise, the small Butte County city that was totally destroyed, don’t have the luxury of prevention.
“The fire affected the community on a high scale,” said former Cal student Marisol Loney, who now attends Chico State. “Before all the homes were gone, residents fled to Chico and by the end of the day on Thursday the streets were completely swamped and all gas stations were full.”
People were fleeing Paradise and finding shelter anywhere they could. The town was consumed by the fire, leaving only remnants of what used to be a whole community.
“Coffee shops, banks, really any store was donating proceeds to different organizations that were donating [to the fire victims], the community really came together to help each other out,” Loney said.
Now that the fires are out, fund raisers all over country are raising money to help rebuild cities in Butte County. Cal’s Interact Club hosted a fund raiser and raised more than $200.
“We decided to have a free movie night and sell food to make money for the fire victims,” Interact event publicist Thomas Files said.