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Illustration by Security Management

Day 56: California Battles Wildfires with Goats

Now at day 56, wildfires in California continue to burn hot and heavy, fueled by hurricane-force Santa Ana winds.

In California alone there are 15 fires that are still at least somewhat uncontained, with the largest active one being the Kincade fire, which has burned through roughly 76,825 acres over the course of eight days. Only 45 percent of the fire is contained. The newest fires started on 31 October, dubbed the Hillside fire (which already burned 200 acres), the 46 fire (100 acres), and the Copper fire (50 acres).

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), extreme wildfire seasons have become increasingly common in the western region of the United States. 

NOAA added that protracted wildfire seasons are linked to population growth in areas prone to wildfires, as well as increasingly extreme climate change, which in that area has resulted in significant droughts—the dried out vegetation provides additional fuel for area wildfires. In an attempt to curb the Easy fire, which started on 30 October, approximately 500 goats were ushered in to eat dry brush in the area around the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. This tactic—which included the talents of Selena Goatmez, Goatzart, and Vincent van Goat—slowed the fire down and gave firefighters additional time to work against the flames.

Similar to previous years, the region’s notable Santa Ana Winds have fueled active blazes, with the strong and dry winds reaching hurricane-force winds.

The area's power utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), has come under scrutiny for its actions during this year’s wildfire season. On 9 October, PG&E initiated a forced power shutoff that affected 738,000 customers. It was just one of many shutoffs in October, which the company said were meant to lessen the risk of wildfires and followed a plan approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Along with leaving some customers without power for multiple days, San Jose, California, claimed one of the shutoffs cost the city at least $500,000.

PG&E announced it will credit back $100 to some impacted residential customers and $250 to business customers, claiming the decision was not political; however, the announcement was made after a request from the California governor to credit customers for the shutoff.

LA Times business columnist David Lazarus noted that beyond damage to property and loss of life, the extended wildfire seasons are also expected to mean higher insurance rates for homeowners. According to Lazarus, this could mean some homeowners will see their premiums double or even triple. The increased costs not only reflect the cost of damages from previous years in California, but also that some insurance providers have ceased providing new policies for owners in high-risk areas.

Security Management offers information on preventing and mitigating wildfires, available for members through its website.