Amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis some western states are fighting two disasters, trying to stop the spread of the virus while also containing massive wildfires that have sprung up due to dry, hot, windy conditions.
As of today (Sept. 15), more than 3.2 million acres of land — roughly the size of Connecticut — has been burned in California, as nearly 16,500 firefighters battle 28 major wildfires in the state, according to CalFire. So far, 24 people have died and over 4,200 structures have been destroyed.
Residents who aren’t impacted by the flames are being choked by wildfire smoke that has forced many people to remain indoors due to poor air quality, and the threat of future fires has caused partial power shutoffs for thousands of California residents, according to CNN.
Oregon and Washington are also struggling to fight multiple wildfires that have impacted the lives of thousands as well.
For private RV parks and campgrounds, wildfires have meant the halt of what had been a very busy summer after a late start to the season due to the COVID-19 crisis, according to Dyana Kelley, president and CEO of the CampCalNOW RV Park and Campground Alliance (CampCalNOW).
She told WOODALLSCM.com (WCM) that the closure of national parks and forest service areas has limited the recreational activities that many can take part in and the impact of smoke and wildfires has scared away campers in some areas.
“Campers are not wanting to go camping,” Kelley explained. “Just when we were having the summer of our life, all of a sudden some of that has come to a screeching halt in a lot of areas. That’s been challenging. And then because they’re being very, very cautious, especially after the Mammoth Pool situation where all those people were trapped, they’re actually evacuating areas, maybe more as a precaution than a necessity. We’re finding that there are areas that are now being evacuated just purely as a precaution.
“Communities are prepping early, so that has been a struggle for some, and of course the smoke is everywhere and so people are not wanting to go out and do anything outside,” she continued. “It is not healthy to be outside, and so that is an issue for park owners as well.”
Recent maps of smoke travel patterns from AirNow shows that smoke from the multiple wildfires in California has covered almost the entire state, Oregon, Washington and is heading East, with CNN reporting that New York’s air quality is being impacted by wildfire smoke.
“Day after day the sky looks like it is going to rain,” noted Kelley. “There are no shadows on the ground from the sun. We have sensor lights that come on for our building here in Auburn, Calif., and one day they came on at 3 p.m. because it was so dark from the smoke and we’re not even in the thick of it, I’m sure there are other places that are much worse than what we have now.”
Kelley said she has been on the phone quite a bit here recently trying to get updates from member parks on how the wildfires have impacted them. She noted that Little Basin Campground, a state-run park, was destroyed by a wildfire. Camp Okizu, A beloved camp in Butte County, Calif., supported by Care Camps for children affected by cancer, was destroyed in the North Complex fire.
“Three member parks that were closest to the Santa Cruz fire all survived,” she noted. “A member park in Wishon Village is horribly close to getting destroyed. I think everybody up in Mendocino has been okay, fires up there have mostly burned forest service area. I don’t think we’ve lost any of our member parks yet, but they’re still very, very close.”
California has been getting hammered year after year by wildfires here recently and Kelley said there are multiple factors at work.
“This is the worst season yet,” she noted to WCM. “It’s not just managing the forest, the forest would actually manage themselves if we allowed them to. There are just so many things involved with this and we could polarize it by saying it’s just climate change or it’s just forest management, but I think that is really irresponsible. I think there is a lot more to it than that and before they actually try to mitigate the problem there’s going to have to be a bigger conversation and people are going to have to be able to set their opinions down and really look for a comprehensive solution because I think there’s more to it than that.
“People think, ‘Okay well if you just get some more water on there, if you just get more firefighters, you can put it out.’ And honestly, when you’re working with a forest fire, it doesn’t really work like that,” Kelley added.