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"According to CAL FIRE spokeswoman Heather Williams, 11 people have died in Sonoma County, six in Mendocino County, two in Yuba County and two in Napa County," report Phil Willon, Paige St. John, Louis Sahagun, Sonali Kohli and Chris Megerian for the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
"We've had big fires in the past," Gov. Jerry Brown said. "This is one of the biggest."
Cal Fire estimates that around 3,500 structures have been destroyed.
As of noon, Wednesday, over 500 people were reported missing in Sonoma County, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
No one yet knows the cause of the more than a dozen fires ablaze around California, but fires start where humans meet the wild forests, where people build for solitude or space or beauty. Things go wrong in those liminal spaces, at the interface between the wilds and the built.
The location of the WUI presents special challenges for firefighters from both sides of the interface.
“Most wildland firefighters are not trained in structural protection, but the urban fire departments are not trained to deal with dozens or hundreds of houses burning at the same time,” says Volker Radeloff, a forestry researcher at the University of Wisconsin. “When these areas with lots of houses burn, the fires become very unpredictable.”
Housing crisis exacerbates fire potential
California housing policies are more likely to push single-family houses out into the edges of communities than encourage the construction of dense city centers.
So keep thinking about blame as northern California rebuilds—if regulations get brave enough to insist on denser cities, less flammable materials, different ornamental vegetation, underground power lines.
For more focus on the WUI nexus with California's housing shortage, see August post by contributing editor Philip Rojc based on an earlier Wired article by Rogers, and September 2016 post from The Wall Street Journal.
The smoke from the North Bay fires have worsened air quality in San Francisco and the Peninsula, reports Amy Graff for The Chronicle.
"We're seeing the worst air quality ever recorded in many parts of the Bay Area," says Tom Flannigan, the [public information officer] for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. "The entire Bay Area population is likely being affected by the smoke."
The wet winter and climate change may also help explain the intensity of recent fires.
More reading on wildland-urban interface:
This report by the Forests on the Edge project, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service is intended to heighten awareness of the ecological role and societal costs of wildfire, the causes and impacts of wildfire on human communities, and the relationship between increases in housing development and wildfire risk.