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For the second year in a row, California has been ravaged by wildfire. On November 8th, 2018 areas in northern and southern California were engulfed in flames.  Post inferno, it is reported that the fires have consumed over 240,000 acres of land, killed over 74 people, and destroyed nearly 13,000 structures. 

California wildfires. U.S. Forest Service photo.

Northern California’s Catastrophic Camp Fire Leaves Residents Trapped in Smoke

While authorities work to try and locate over 1,000 individuals that remain unaccounted for, CBS News has confirmed that as of this morning, 71 people have lost their lives in Butte county’s Camp Fire and over 12,000 structures have been burned. The blaze, which is only 55-percent contained has scorched over 148,000 acres of land and devastated thousands of animal habitats. Residents in Paradise, California had little time to evacuate before flames tore through their homes and trapped many who were able to flee their homes in of their burning vehicles.  Though the deadly flames are now under control, a new threat looms in the air. Nearly ten days after the start of the most destructive fire in California history, northern California residents in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Chico are being smothered by dangerous levels of smoke. As winds push the toxic smoke across northern California, residents and their pets are encouraged to stay inside or wear masks to avoid breathing the particulate matter that when inhaled has been likened to smoking ten cigarettes a day.

The Woolsey Fire That Burned Through Socal’s Beach Towns and Hillsides

450 miles south of Butte County, more flames tore through areas of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Southern California’s Woolsey fire, which began the same day as the Camp Fire, burned through approximately 830 structures and took the lives of at least three people and thousands of animal who called the region home. After the fire began, HWF founders, Alex Havasi and Marilyn Fordney were evacuated from their home in Agoura Hills and while their house still stands, their recent return revealed devastated hillsides and burned structures in the surrounding areas.  Fordney reports that the charred remnants of rodents, squirrels, and deer can be seen scattered throughout their neighborhood. Vultures, which are not a common sight in their area, now circle overhead to scout out the animal carcasses that might become their next meal.  On the streets, roaming domestic dogs search for owners who were unable to evacuate them in time.  Officials have warned Fordney, Havasi and other neighbors that in the coming weeks, mountain lions, pumas and other wild cats may approach their properties and attack their small pets since wild food sources are scarce.

Burned areas near Agoura Hills. Photo Credit Alex Havasi.

Animal Rescues Through the Flames

From the ashes of charred communities come heartbreaking stories of destruction and death in both the human and animal world.  Though many wild and domestic animals could not be evacuated, examples of human kindness shine through the stories of the volunteers flocked to northern and southern California’s threatened areas to help rescue wild and domestic animals.

ABC News shared the following video captured by Malibu resident, Rebecca Hacket, as she drove through the canyon and escaped the inferno with a trailer full of rescued horses.

Last week, northern California resident, Jeff Hill, posted an animal rescue story on his Facebook that has since gone viral. When Jeff Hill and his friend Geoff Sheldon returned to Paradise, CA they thought they would find his father’s home in ruins. Days before, Hill had lost his own home to the flames of the Camp Fire. Not only did they find that his father’s home was one of two still standing in the neighborhood, but Jeff and his friend also found a mule, who had jumped into a swimming pool to survive the flames. Scrambling to free the mule from the pool cover that confined her, Jeff and his friend were able to free her and guide her up the steps to safety, offering us all a glimpse of happiness in an otherwise harrowing time.

Off of the 101 freeway in La Conchita, a man pulled his car off the road to save a wild rabbit that was running towards flames. Watch the BBC video below to see a brilliant act of humanity caught on tape.

In many instances wildfires can benefit nature—clearing brush, cleaning the forest floor of debris, and nourishing the soil— but uncontrolled widespread wildfire has a tendency to do more damage than good. If the fires that happened last week give any indication to what the future of California may be, then it is time to find and fund ways to help prevent the sweeping devastation of these deadly infernos. The HWF foundation would like to thank the firefighters, first responders, and volunteers who put their lives on the line to help protect those in burn areas. The death toll and structural loss in California have been substantial and we recognize that without the work of these women and men, more lives and homes could have been lost.

Sun, smoke, and fire damage. Photo credit Alex Havasi

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