Northern California health officials are telling residents to stay inside, to protect themselves from the poor air quality caused by the wildfire smoke. But for many, that’s not an option.
A vulnerable, essential labor force – the more than 381,000 agriculture workers in California – already disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic keeps working as others flee and take shelter.
These low-wage, primarily Latinx laborers do not have the option of paid time off, hazard pay or sick days – for them, keeping America fed means keeping their families fed. On days of heavy smoke, they’re forced to choose between their health and their paycheck.
Workers rights advocates told me that state regulations require companies to provide workers with face masks when the air quality reaches the unhealthiest level. But with the various levels of contractors and subcontractors within the industry – a company may have a different company in charge of hiring the fieldworkers and another company in charge of overseeing the fieldworkers – what’s on paper as a company mandate does not always end up in practice in the fields.
And unfortunately, according to advocates, the state and federal occupational safety and health agencies meant to hold these companies accountable only respond when complaints are filed when “any person can just drive through the fields and see if there are workers not being protected or given safety precautions,” said Lucas Zucker, the policy and communications director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy.
“The structure of these worker safety agencies are not set up to respond quickly in a disaster,” he said.
Read more about the situation here:
The three wildfires burning around the San Francisco Bay Area have grown to a total size larger than the state of Rhode Island.
The SCU Lightning Complex Fire that is burning in various locations throughout Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties to the east is at 347,196 acres – or 542.5 squres miles – and 10% containment.
The LNU Lightning Complex Fire that is burning across Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Lake and Yolo counties in the north is now at 350,030 acres – or 546.9 square miles – and 22% containment.
The CZU Lightning Complex Fire that is burning through San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties to the south has grown to 74,000 acres – or 115.6 square miles – and 8% containment.
The three wildfires total about 1,205 square miles. Rhode Island is about 1,034 square miles.
Northern California braced itself for a dry lightning event last night. After all, a number of the hundreds of wildfires currently burning in the state – the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, the SCU Lightning Complex Fire just to name a few – were sparked by lightning.
Yet while strikes in the Central Valley and westerns Sierra foothills may have sparked new fires, they were “less widespread and intense than earlier feared.”
In fact, the lightning event was minimal enough that the National Weather Service canceled its red flag warning for the Bay Area.
While this is some much-needed good news, like everything in California, that hardly means all is safe.
Hey all, Vivian Ho on the west coast taking over the liveblog for the day.
The San Francisco Bay Area received a light reprieve in the way of rain last night, a part of the lightning event that ended up being “less widespread and intense” in the region as earlier predicted.
The rain cooled temperatures, offering some relief for Bay Area residents, many of whom do not have air conditioning, forced to keep their windows shut because of the smoke in the air.
In San Francisco, though a light smokey haze still hung overhead, painting the sky an eerie white-gray, the chokehold these fires have had on our lungs felt as if it loosened, just a bit. Though the scent of smoke was still strong, the sting in our eyes felt less and more tolerable than it has in days.
Firefighters and residents in North California have been given a boost this morning, as predicted bad weather has so far evaded the state.
Humidity rose on Monday, Associated Press reported, and there was no return of the onslaught of lightning strikes that ignited the infernos a week earlier.
The region surrounding San Francisco Bay remained under an extreme fire danger warning until late Monday afternoon amid the possibility of of lightning and gusty winds, but fire commanders said the weather had aided their efforts so far.
“Mother Nature’s helped us quite a bit,” said Billy See, the California department of forestry and fire protection incident commander for a complex of fires burning south of San Francisco.
The National Weather Service has retained issued a “red flag” warning for the drought-stricken area of Northern California, however.
That mans extremely dangerous fire conditions exist, including high temperatures, low humidity, lightning and wind gusts up to 65 mph (105 kph) that officials said “may result in dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior”.
ABC News has shared this video from firefighters driving through a wildfire. According to the news channel 14,000 firefighters have now been deployed in California.
The San Lorenzo Valley water district, 70 miles south of San Francisco and 10 miles north of Santa Cruz, has lost 4.5 million gallons of water after fire melted a main water pipeline.
KSBW8 reported that the five mile long pipe melted due to intense heat from San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.
“Officials with the SLV Water District had to refocus water flow so firefighters battling the CZU Lightning Complex Fire will have access to water,” KSBW8 reported. Firefighters have enough water to keep battling the blaze.
The water main break impacts about 8,000 residents, who have been evacuated due to the blaze.
The Ranch Fire, which burned some 410,000 acres in California in 2018, is the largest fire in state’s history.
According to the latest statistics from the California department of forestry and fire protection (Cal Fire) two of the fires burning outside of the San Francisco Bay Area are not far behind.
The LNU fire, in wine country north of San Francisco, is now just over 350,000 acres, and 22% contained, according to Cal Fire:
While the SCU Lightning Complex, south-east of San Francisco, spans 347,196. It is 10% contained.
That places the two blazes at second and third in the state’s largest fires in history.
Sparked by a rare lightning storm and stoked by hot, windy weather, the fires have expanded quickly into the Sierra Nevada, southern California, and regions north, east and south of San Francisco, writes the Guardian’s Maanvi Singh.
Maanvi has written an in-depth explainer on how the fires started and began to rage out of control:
A confluence of extreme weather conditions set the stage, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. First came a record-breaking, continuing heatwave across the state. Temperatures in Death Valley hit 130F and the state saw rolling blackouts for the first time in nearly two decades as millions of Californians seeking to cool their homes strained the electrical grid.
Next, a tropical storm in the Pacific Ocean spun moisture toward California, triggering a rare lighting storm that zapped California more than 10,800 times over a three-day period, sparking small fires across the Bay Area and northern California. Then the humidity dropped and winds picked up, stoking the small flames until they erupted into full-blown infernos.
Read Maanvi’s full piece here:
Firefighters in California are not just at risk from the blazes which have besieged the state – they also pose a potential coronavirus threat, to themselves and others.
Public health officials are increasingly concerned that the 12,000 firefighters – many of them from out of state – could trigger a super-spreader coronavirus event as they tackle the fires, the San Francisco Chronicle reported:
The concerns are multilayered. Most important: No one wants firefighters to get sick, for their own sake. Also, the state can’t afford to pull crews off duty when staff resources are so thin. With personnel coming to the region from throughout the state as well as other parts of the country, public health experts fear a “super-spreader” event if someone infected on the front lines brings the virus back home.
According to the Chronicle, “the firefighters present a unique challenge”.
Social distancing is difficult, as the firefighters live in small shelters where they sleep and eat together. They travel to blazes in trucks with the windows rolled up, the newspaper said, and frequently cannot wear face coverings due to the extreme heat.
“It’s the perfect storm: Bring people in from all over the western United States to work together in a communal setting, and then send them back,” said John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley infectious disease expert who also advised the U.S. Forest Service.
Almost 250,000 people are under fire evacuation orders and warnings in California, as three huge fires continue to rage around the San Francisco Bay Area.
Firefighters are bracing on Monday for more damage, as the National Weather Service (NWS) warned that fast moving storms will lead to a risk of new fires erupting.
Some 650 fires are burning in California, ignited by nearly 12,000 lightning strikes across the state in the past week and accelerated by a record-breaking heatwave.
The NWS has issued a “red flag” warning across swathes of northern California, valid until Monday evening. It warned that extreme fire conditions including high temperatures, low humidity and wind gusts up to 65mph could result in “dangerous and unpredictable fire behavior”.
The three fires in the Bay Area are raging across more than 200,000 hectares, and have destroyed nearly 1,000 homes and structures. Seven people are reported to have been killed.
At one of the three blazes, the CZU Lightning Complex fire in the Santa Cruz mountains, south of San Francisco, authorities announced the discovery of the body of a 70-year-old man in a remote area called Last Chance on Sunday.
Meanwhile the LNU Lightning Complex fire, in wine country north of San Francisco, and SCU Lightning Complex, south-east of the city, have grown to be two of the three largest fires in state history, both burning more than 500 square miles.
The LNU fire has been the most deadly and destructive, accounting for five deaths and 845 destroyed homes and other buildings.