An incredibly dangerous wildfire has exploded to life in Northern California. The Camp Fire has spurred numerous evacuations in Butte County as it races across the landscape.
The fire was first reported at 6:30 a.m. PT, and grew to at least 5,000 acres in three hours. California’s state fire agency reported the fire is “very dynamic” and that ‘[s]trong winds are moving the fire quickly.” The official estimate of acreage burned is almost certainly on the low end, as the fire is spreading at an astonishing 80 acres per minute. Smoke from the blaze is already descending on the Bay Area some 150 miles away.
In addition to powerful winds, humidity is in the single digits, drying out vegetation. That has created what Redding TV meteorologist Rob Elvington called “unprecedented” conditions for this time of year, providing ample fuel for the Camp Fire to run wild.
All this has led to a growing list of evacuations. Video depicting the evacuation shows traffic moving in a contraflow pattern, with cars flowing in one direction on both sides of the a highway to get people out of harm’s way and stalled traffic amidst a hellscape of smoke and flames.
Paradise, a town of 27,000, sits directly in the Camp Fire’s path. Its rapid growth and early-morning arrival means that residents didn’t have much time to leave or firefighters time to prepare, leaving them to play a game of catchup against an extremely active fire. And the gridlock coupled with the rapidly-growing fire has reportedly led some to abandon their vehicles and shelter in place. Meanwhile firefighters operating bulldozers have been authorized to push cars off the road to clear a path and try to beat back the flames. In short, this is a chaotic nightmare situation.
Unfortunately it’s also one that has become all too familiar to Californians in recent years. The largest fire in state history set Southern California ablaze in 2017. It held the record for less than a year, though, as the Ranch Fire took its place in the record books this year. California has had four of its top 10 most destructive fires burn in the past two years, the most recent being the Carr Fire that destroyed entire neighborhoods in Redding, a city of 90,000 in the northern part of the state.
Climate change coupled with growing number of people living where the forest meets the city has increased the risk of these types of fires. And humans are setting more blazes than ever. It’s enough to make one wonder how much longer we can keep building in harm’s way.
Update November 8, 4:24 p.m. ET: And like that, estimates for the fire continue to grow so that official estimates almost immediately become obsolete. Less than an hour after CALFIRE published an update that the Camp Fire was up to 8,000 acres, the agency’s public affairs office said it was unofficially up to at least 17,000 acres. Regardless, the blaze is zero percent contained. At this point, firefighters are trying to save lives and not property, which should tell you all you need to know about how dangerous the situation is.