A recent string of Southern Californian fires forced thousands to evacuate their homes and businesses.
The most significant fires were the Sayre Fire, the Montecito Tea Fire and the Freeway Complex Fire, all of which have been 100 percent contained. Together, those three fires threatened and destroyed over 1,010 building structures – most of them residential – leaving hundreds of people homeless.
The Sayre Fire did the most damage, burning 11,262 acres and destroying more than 600 structures in the Los Angeles County. Four hundred eighty-nine were residential homes. The Los Angeles Times called the fire “the worst loss of homes due to fire in the city of Los Angeles.“
The Montecito Tea Fire burned 1,940 acres and destroyed 210 homes. Investigators believe that the fire was accidentally set off from a leftover bonfire started by a group of college students the night before.
The Freeway Complex Fire burned roughly 30,305 acres and destroyed about 250 structures. Roughly 7,000 homes were evacuated.
UC Davis junior Tu-Han Phan has relatives who were evacuated from the Anaheim Hills region during the fires.
“They were given a pretty short notice to evacuate,” said Phan, a psychology major. “I think my family members were pretty worried if people were OK. Some of my younger cousins were frustrated with the situation because they felt like there wasn’t a real danger.“
Other students noticed the fires, even if they didn’t directly affect them.
“My family lives in Southern California, but they weren’t really affected by the fires,” said Michelle Kim, a sophomore communication major. “They saw ash, though. My sister was eating a piece of candy and it fell out of her mouth and when she picked it up, it was all ashy.“
Though her area was not in danger either, Culver City resident Minning Yu noticed that the air was smoky and ash covered her car.
“I saw people walking around the streets with face masks and my asthma kicked up, so it was hard for me to breathe over that weekend,” she said.
During a press briefing, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the conditions of dryness, high winds and high temperature made for a “perfect storm.“
Wildfires have become an increasing problem in California through recent decades. Just in the past 10 years, state wildfire spending has gone up 150 percent, bringing the total to over $1 billion.
This current year in particular has been one of the driest for California in many regions and Governor Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought for the first time in 17 years.
Drought accompanied with dry thunderstorms, high winds and lightning have made the 2008 fire season one of the most damaging in terms of burned area, fire officials say. By mid-July, more than 800,000 acres were burned and 1,783 fires were still burning strong all over California.
The cost of fighting all these fires has gone up. The Sayre, Montecito and Freeway Complex fire alone have the damage estimate of roughly $22.2 million. In total, fighting the 2008 fires has cost at least $465.5 million so far, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire.
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