In California, “the fire epidemic” becomes a public health issue

Analysis. In 2020, California faced five of the six biggest fires in its history. An alarm signal as much as a trauma, in a State accustomed to its golden recklessness. This year, as summer approaches, California officials are already on their toes. On May 7, the first “red alert” against the danger of fires was declared in Northern California. It follows an observation: the drought is back.

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The hydrologists, who will each year solemnly measure the snow cover on the 1is April in the Sierra Nevada, returned with bad news: the « snowpack » was only 60% of the usual average. Six weeks later, this snowpack that feeds the rivers only represents 6% of this average. The tanks are half empty. California had emerged from a three-year period of historic drought in 2017, it is already returning.

On May 10, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in 41 of the state’s 58 counties, a move that allows his departments to ration water and set priorities – farmers? fish? – in its distribution.

Urban areas affected

The weather conditions are worrying but something has changed. The Golden State realizes that a point of no return has been reached, from politicians to CEOs of insurance companies; from civil society to entrepreneurs, victims of preventive power cuts supposed to prevent fires from starting under power lines.

The world’s fifth-largest economy has no choice: fires have become a crisis, not only of forest management, but also of public health. According to researcher Michael Wara of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, some 3,000 elderly people died in the summer of 2020 due to deteriorating air quality. “The central point of the new thinking on fires is that it is no longer a problem that concerns rural areas but a huge public health problem in urban areas”, he explains.

Governor Newsom has decided to devote $ 536 million (440 million euros) to firefighting, double the usual budget

Everyone remembers the orange cloud that made San Francisco look like a sci-fi movie in September 2020. Air quality has been classified as harmful for over a month in the bay.

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