Record Breaking Fire Season in California

Recent Fires and Smoke Impact Saugus Community


Photo Courtesy of ABC7 Los Angeles

Record breaking fires threaten citizen’s homes and bring destruction through California.

Ella Weidman, The Scroll, Staff Writer

In the past months California has been ravaged by wildfires, with resulting smoke impacting numerous communities throughout the state. Since the beginning of 2020, there have been over 8,300 wildfires, burning well over four million acres in California. To date, the total number of fatalities statewide is 31 and over 8,819 structures have been destroyed. 

Beginning with several local fires near Castaic and Piru, which largely contributed to the unhealthy air quality for people living in the Santa Clarita Valley, fire season in 2020 has surpassed new and alarming milestones. On Monday, the August complex fire in northern California expanded beyond one million acres, elevating it from mere “mega fire” status to a new classification, “giga-fire”, never used before in modern history.

At 1.03 million acres, the fire is larger than the state of Rhode Island and is raging across seven counties, according to fire agency Cal Fire. 

Several other fires have raged in the past months and have severely affected the state’s air quality, such as the El Dorado fire and Bobcat fire.Thick smoke was recorded blocking out the sun for days at a time and labeled as unhealthy for sensitive groups. Much of the smoke could even be seen by satellite. 

According to Ami Ilan, a Saugus resident, the smoke and ash has caused her to have burning in her throat. “I’m sensitive to poor air quality even when there are no fires,” said Ilan. “My eyes water and my throat gets dry when there’s just a lot of dust in the air but when there’s smoke too, I try not to go outside or I only go out in the early morning or at night when it’s not too bad outside.”

Karley Robbs, a freshman at Saugus High School, was similarly impacted by the smoke and ash. “I get an itchy throat when I’m outside for a long time so I’ve been staying inside doing my school work,” said Robbs. 

Zac Cates, a Los Angeles County Fire Department captain at station 126 on Citrus St. in Valencia, explained that Santa Clarita is a high threat zone in toxic air quality. “I worked on the Lake Incident in Castaic and other smaller fires around the Santa Clarita valley. My department tries not to send our engine companies to other fires in Los Angeles County or the state because we are considered a high threat zone,” said Cates.  

When asked how many fires he has worked on Captain Cates continued, “That question is difficult to answer but I will do my best. It is not uncommon for us to be on a wild land fire for up to two weeks.  For two weeks I was on the Santa Rosa complex (large scale fire) near Napa Valley in 2017, the Thomas Fire in 2018 in Santa Paula and the Woolsey Fire in 2019 in Malibu. 

I work ten 24 hour shifts a month from 8 a.m. until the following morning at 8 a.m.  So roughly 2 days a week. I have been on smaller wild land fires in one day and the most in a week I can remember would be five.”

Five of the six largest fires ever recorded in the state have occurred in 2020, resulting in several dozen deaths and thousands of lost buildings. As of now, More than 16,400 firefighters continue to work towards containment on 23 major wildfires and one extended attack wildfire across the state. Yesterday, firefighters also responded to 35 new wildfires, bringing full containment to all, according to Cal Fire.