On 12th November 2018, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article authored by Alexander, Sernoffsky, and Cassidy, titled “Camp Fire: Death toll rises to 42 as coroner’s recovery crews find more bodies.” The authors present a detailed report regarding a campfire that recently ravaged Paradise, Butte County, resulting in multiple deaths and destruction of property. The article describes the reactions of the locals after the fire and how they responded to the knowledge that some of the citizens of Paradise were still missing. It also described some of the missing persons, such as John Digby (78 years), Carl (77 years) and Joanne (75 years). From the descriptions of the missing people and the victims of the fire, one gets the idea that the city consisted mainly of retirees, a suggestion that is also given by Selby (iii). Some of them had various health challenges that made it difficult to move fast during the fire, leading to the loss of their lives. The article also suggests that the security personnel tried their best in saving the affected individuals.
Throughout the article, one question that constantly comes to mind is how the geographical features of Paradise contributed to the spread of the fire. The fire spread so rapidly that some of the inhabitants of the premises were unable to escape from the fire. Their inability to escape was also attributed to their health conditions. However, it is also possible that the terrain of Paradise prevented the people from escaping fast enough. The report shows that the fire affected more than 117,000 acres of land and it was only possible to contain 30% of the affected area. Most of the affected area, as marked in the article, is characterized by heavy vegetation, which is characteristic of the area’s climatic conditions. Moreover, it is within a highland area, which could have contributed to the unavailability of fire quelling resources. Alexander et al. point out the challenges of mobility based on assumptions made about the victims. The same mobility challenges could have affected the speed of the firefighters and their trucks, hence reducing the probability of putting out the fire.
According to Alexander et al., the Paradise area of California around Butte Creek is characterized by a hot-summer Mediterranean Climate whereby summers almost mirror the climate of a semi-arid region (Camp Fire Devastates, par. 3). This climate implies that the temperatures around October to December can be as high as 80 – 100 degrees Celsius, increasing the probability of occurrence of wild firestorms. While the article does not provide a lot of direct descriptions of the areas affected by the fire, it presents a clear map that not only enables one to understand the scope of the fire-affected area but also the landscape of the area.
One of the key features of the California landscape as evident from the presented map is that it has diverse features. From the descriptions in the article, Paradise area was more of a residential area than a natural vegetation-infested area. The map, however, shows a heavy presence of vegetation (plants that are visible above the ground), a contoured landscape (general appearance of the land – terrain) most likely to be characteristic of a hilly/ mountainous area sloping downwards from Paradise towards Lake Oroville. Furthermore, the river estuaries that are all connected to the Lake give the impression that the river drains into Lake Oroville.
From a geographical perspective, the Paradise wildfire story has a lot of underlying information on the geography of California as a whole and Paradise particularly. Selby (iii) describes California’s physical and cultural landscapes as exceptional. This exceptionality arises from the array of geological processes, plant and animal communities, climatic conditions and the waterscapes of the County. These natural landscapes continuously challenge geographers in finding solutions to existing challenges. The Paradise wildfire story promotes this theme of cultural and physical landscape diversity by giving the impression that there is a difference between Paradise and other places in California. Additional evidence is that the wildfire spread faster in Paradise than in other areas, showing that there must be a factor that promotes faster fire spread than in other areas.
Selby (257-259) also describes California’s diverse human geography, which he says is a reflection of the natural history of California. The multiple human landscapes and cultural characteristics of the nation are described as the products of their natural settings. Understanding the key aspects of California’s landscape thus requires an exploration of temporal and spatial connections and relationships which define various aspects of the state. The state of California itself has a rich human population history, comprising of people from different backgrounds and with a myriad of cultures. The city of Paradise is like an extract of the state of California, whereby different cultural backgrounds co-exist, united by the presence of the common factor of their love for the city. From the study given by Alexander et al., the city of Paradise has people from diverse cultures and backgrounds, reflecting the diverse human geography of the state of California. The story reports of people such as Foss from San Francisco, Jesus from Concow, John Digby (whose son lived in Minnesota) and others, who have different backgrounds and different stories as to why they were in Paradise at the time of the fire. The human diversity also came with diversity in their capabilities as reported by Alexander et al. (some of the residents had mobility issues; some were retirees while others were relatively young people). Each of these categories should have two groups of people.
One of the steps recommended for understanding the connections and relationships between humans and their environments is the appreciation of human dependence on the national resources of the state. From an understanding of the roles of natural resources on human life, it is possible to explore the impacts that human activities have had on the natural resources, and how they have exploited and modified those resources. Research has shown that most of the natural resource destruction occurs as a result of human activities and poor land use planning. Activities such as deforestation, illegal logging, and general forest encroachment have resulted in significant negative impacts on the sustainability of those natural resources. The case of the Paradise wildfire is an example of the applicability of human activities on natural resources. Two scenarios are possible; the first is that climate change as a result of human interactions with the environment increased the risks of fire in Paradise. The second is that the fire was a result of human activity that was beyond control. Either way, the Paradise wildfire confirms that humans need to take greater care of the natural resources from which they benefit. Moreover, it shows that human interference with natural resources results in the lack of sustainability of those resources.
People’s movement to Paradise is reflective of the larger changes wrought by California’s people, which are more dynamic than the changes in physical and cultural landscapes (Selby iii). Great migrations have reportedly occurred not only into the state but also within the states. The result has been population explosion both generally in the state of California but also in specific areas of the state. A wide diversity of cultures has come with impactful economic and geographic movements into the state. Considering the demographics of Paradise city, it is evident that the city embodied the kind of immigration that is evident throughout California. Most of the residents of Paradise were from other places and had only moved into Paradise either as a retirement home or as a workplace. The implications of these movements on the natural environment are inevitable. For instance, it is probable that changing land use patterns could have contributed to the spread of the fire in Paradise and the surrounding cities. Monitoring human losses in such a scenario can also be challenging due to a variety of origins and traditions. Most of those who were mentioned as victims, for instance, had been reported by their relatives. The other residents only feared that there were other victims yet could not say for certain who was there.
Understanding the type of activities that have been going on in the areas in which the wildfire occurred, and their connections with the larger geographical framework of the state are essential towards explaining the probable causes of the fire (Selby iii). The state of California has been changing significantly over the last few years, raising concerns about land use efficiency and planning. The core question was how could the land have been used sustainably to cater to the needs of the current populations while ensuring that those of future generations are not jeopardized? Through the Paradise fire story, it is clear that there is a significant connection between the problems faced in finite areas and the issues experienced in the larger context. Selby (227) avers that while some of the scopes and scales of different issues and problems in the national geography are specific, they still need to be covered under the umbrella of the entire state.
The Paradise fire marks another inflection in California’s change of natural and human landscape. Selby (241) asserts that California’s landscape has been changing remarkably relative to changes in other states. Additionally, there are active geographical processes, anomalous climatic patterns and expansion or destruction of plant and animal communities. The fire, therefore, adds to a range of activities that have been used to define California’s natural resource distribution patterns and the remarkable changes in them. Consumption of vegetation by the fire implies that there were changes in the vegetation species distribution over the areas that were destroyed by fire. There is no guarantee that the same plants would grow in the same patterns that they were in that year. Destruction of plant communities is inevitable, as is the annihilation of human populations. The devastation and loss of property and lives through the fire are a motivation towards demographic shifts that may not have been planned. Some people will move out of the Paradise area while new people will come in resulting in demographic changes across the state. Furthermore, the population in the area will also change significantly, reducing over the few months following the fire and then probably increasing afterward. Just as change defined the natural environment of California before the great human settlements and subsequent land use developments, the changes resulting from the fires will continue to define California’s cultural and human landscapes.
California’s waterscapes are also likely to be changed by virtue of changes in the water towers around the paradise area (Selby iii). Lake Oroville gets its water from its feeders which are within Paradise. With the high temperatures to which the area was subjected during the fire, significant evaporation of water occurred from the water bodies. As such, while there might be high humidity in the air, it would be difficult to retain the same flow rates into the rivers as before due to the reduction of water levels in the towers. The Paradise area and its surrounding are therefore most likely to have changes in the climatic patterns.
While the article offers important information about the Paradise area, the implications of the Geography of the Paradise area on the Geography of California is insignificant outside the landscapes. The article does not delve into how the fire affected the general Californian geography. However, from the different themes developed by Selby on the Californian geography, it is evident that the article is reflective of different features of California. For instance, aspects such as the diversity of physical and human landscapes and the interactions of humans and the available natural resources, diversity of human populations and migration patterns in the state, all point to specific elements of Paradise. The fire also has several implications on the geography of California both in terms of human settlement patterns and in terms of vegetation distribution patterns. Another important piece of information for the article would have been then link between human activities, wildfires and the interactional impacts of the two on the Paradise and Californian population in general.
Alexander, Kurtis, Johnson, Lizzie, Wu, Gwendolyn, and Allay, Eric. “Campfire devastates Paradise near Chico — businesses, church, numerous homes burn.” San Francisco Chronicle, November 9, 2018. www.sfgate.com/california-wildfires/article/Evacuations-ordered-across-Butte-County-as-Camp-13374840.php.
Alexander, Curtis, Sernoffsky, Evans and Cassidy, Megan. “Campfire: death toll rises to 42 as coroner’s recovery crews find more bodies.” San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 2018. www.sfchronicle.com/california-wildfires/article/camp-fire-butte-county-death-toll-victims-missing-13384222.php
Selby, William A. Rediscovering the golden state California Geography 3rd Ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2000.