It was always going to be a hard year for California’s firefighters. Even before freak summer lightning storms lit up the state weeks earlier than expected and Covid-19 and the climate crisis became dueling calamities, fire crews were bracing for season of record-breaking infernos across the west.
Now, fatigued first responders are facing fires that are burning hotter, faster, and more frequently than ever before – and it’s only expected to get worse as the season goes on. The strain is already starting to set in.
“I have never seen something at this level,” said James Bowron, Oakland Fire Department’s battalion chief. In nearly three decades on the job, he has never witnessed this many fires burning at once.
California saw a fierce and early start to its annual fire season. By the first week of September, a record 3.3m acres had already gone up in flames. That’s 26 times more than the area that had burned last year by this time. Firefighters are battling nearly 30 major blazes. Officials report that roughly 4,900 structures have been reduced to rubble and 24 people have lost their lives so far. More than 14,800 first responders are out fighting to contain the fires, according to state officials.