A Burning Land: California Wildfires
by Eleanor Gould
Sonoma County, the heart and soul of wine country, is a spectacular place I was lucky enough to call home for the first twelve years of my life. Just north of San Francisco, Sonoma County stretches from the beaches of Bodega Bay inward through the rows of vines that cover the hills of Healdsburg and Santa Rosa.
However, for nearly the last decade, Sonoma County has become one of the many Californian communities plagued by formidable wildfires. A rapidly changing climate has thousands of negative implications, one of them being an increase in temperature. According to the California government website posted by the California Climate Adaptation Strategy (CCAS), California has already experienced a temperature increase of 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit, and by mid-century, this increase is anticipated to be between 4.4 and 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit. While the grapes supporting the prominent wine business in Sonoma County can tolerate the warmer weather, this increase in temperature just makes it easier for wildfires to be born. A hot, dry landscape, when combined with high winds, can start a fire and spread the length of a football field in the blink of an eye.
I experienced the effects of the 2017 Coffey Park fire firsthand. Though my family’s home was not scorched by the flames of that year's fire, I had friends who lost everything. I heard the chilling recounts of people jumping out of their windows because their front doors were encased in flames. Some people were able to save their pets and their cars, and others weren’t so fortunate. My friends who went to the neighboring middle school had to see parts of their school black and charred and rebuilt, though everyone was thinking that another fire could come along just as easily as this one had.
In the summer of 2020, we were really feeling the impact of the increasing temperatures. Power was out due to an attempt by the electrical companies to reduce fires caused by trees falling on powerlines, and smoke from the fires ravaging neighboring communities just made the 110-degree heat more unbearable to endure. We felt the guilt of using a generator, as we knew that darkening our carbon footprint would just contribute to fueling the increase in changing temperatures, but our other option was to let our food in the fridge spoil. On top of that, we were scared. We were scared that the fires would knock on our door, destroying our home and our lives. To our horror, our fears became true, and on September 28th, 2020, my house, along with all of my neighbors homes, burned to the studs.
Three years later, the smell of a campfire still triggers my fight or flight. I am scared to take my eye off the cinnamon candle burning on the countertop. The artwork that my little brother made at school hangs on the walls alone; all of mine was reduced to ash. Though my family has recovered from the devastation of the fire, our former home in California has not. In 2020, over 4 million acres of land were massacred by wildfires. Homes, habitats, schools, and businesses were all ruined by the flames. In 2021, 2.5 million acres of land were lost. And the situation is not expected to improve due to the dryness of the land and the increase in temperature due to global warming. Fires that burn more than 25,000 acres are predicted to increase in frequency by 50% by 2100 (CCAS).
Our earth—our home—desperately needs our help. So the next time you find yourself considering taking a long shower, buying a plastic bottle of water, or leaving the lights on when you don't need to, think to yourself: How can I help the planet?
Eleanor Gould is a junior from Simsbury, Connecticut. Outside of school, she enjoys writing, reading, playing tennis, hanging out with friends, and listening to music.