Recent Fires Affect UCI Community

Nearly after two weeks of persistent fire fighting efforts, nearly all the wildfires in Southern California have been contained. The wildfires were independently started in San Diego County, Ventura County, Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County.
While the fires are finally being contained, UCI students are still reflecting on the loss.
Though the San Diego County fire was reportedly an accident, arson has been attributed to at least one of the fires and the suspected cause of many of the others. Over 746,000 total acres have been burned.
In addition to the record-breaking acreage that was burned, damages include an estimated 3,600 burned homes and 3,400 commercial buildings. The cost of the fires is estimated at $2 billion worth in damages.
Carl Holguin of the United States Forest Services attributes last week’s weather shift for the firefighters’ success in combating the fires.
‘The cooler weather and diminished winds, combined with the rain allowed us to make significant progress,’ Holguin said.
As a result of the fires, some students have worried about air quality.
In spite of the increase in harmful aerosols in the air due to the fires, Donald Blake, professor of chemistry at UCI, assures that the fires are not affecting current air quality.
‘[The rain from last weekend] rained out everything in the air as a result of the fire,’ Blake said. ‘We are back to where we were before.’
While the fires’ main impact on Irvine was restricted to falling ashes and poor air quality, the fires did hit close to home for some UCI students.
Madeline Jewell, a third-year biology major, grew up in San Bernadino County’s Lake Arrowhead, where fires destroyed nearly 1,000 homes.
While Jewell’s family did not lose their home, her neighbor died of a heart attack due to the anguish caused by the fire and her best friend was one of the victims who lost a home.
Jewell visited the mountain for the first time last week since the beginning of the fire. Her biggest concern is not on midterms and classes, but on her friends and community that has suffered so much since the start of the fire.
‘I felt so bad for them. It was really hard because it was during midterms so it was so hard for me to study,’ Jewell said. ‘[My first priority] is my friends and my family because it’s so hard for everyone.’
Even though Jewell did not lose her home in the fire, being a part of a community that was so devastated by the fires has been difficult for her.
‘It’s just hard to go up there and see everything burned,’ Jewell said.
In San Diego County, Rachel Baker, a UCI alum, was evacuated from her home two weeks ago. She has since moved back but deals with the reality of nearly losing her home.
‘The fire came all the way to the back fences in the houses across the street from my house,’ Baker said. ‘The fire even burned the trees in some of the backyards, but did not touch the houses.’
Small pockets of fire still remain to be extinguished in the days ahead, but much of the fire fighting has already been completed. Now that the fires are almost completely contained, concern has turned towards the large number of dead trees in San Bernardino County.
San Bernardino County recently experienced a massive infestation of bark beetles that left trees vulnerable to fire and provided fuel for the the destruction of over 1,000 homes.
Last August President Bush passed the ‘Healthy Forest Initiative’ with the purpose of eradicating such fuel from forests throughout the country.
Those in favor of the initiative see the recent wildfires as proof of the damage that can be incurred if the forests are left untouched.
According to the California Department of Forestry, while the forest burned over 100,000 acres, there are still 85 percent of the dead bark beetle trees left.
Holguin explained that without the abatement of the bark beetle trees, the forest is still at risk for similar fires.
‘We are not out of the woods yet,’ Holguin said.
Containing the fires is not enough to safeguard the homes in the mountains, according to Holguin. Eradicating the thousands of dead trees that remain in San Bernadino is the answer.