By Karen Savage
Pennie Opal Plant spent much of last weekend anxiously scanning the horizon for smoke from California’s growing wildfires, packing and repacking treasured items into her car, and trying to decide which to bring if she needed to evacuate.
Plant, the co-founder of Idle No More SF Bay, a group led by Indigenous women dedicated to climate activism, is no stranger to climate-fueled disasters, including California’s growing wildfire crisis. But for the first time ever, Plant was preparing to flee from the flames at a moment’s notice. She has lived in her home in Richmond for more than 20 years.
She left once last year because of the smoke—Plant and her husband both have respiratory conditions—but this was different. This time she was afraid if they left, she’d never see her home again.
“I wanted to make sure that we all photographed everything, if we lose everything, here’s what we had, so proof for the insurance company,” Plant said.
Fortunately for Plant, her husband, daughter and grandson who live with her, the immediate threat—lightning embedded in the remnants of Hurricane Genevieve that could have sparked an inferno in the dry canyon below—never materialized.
But hundreds of thousands of Californians who have been forced to flee their homes haven’t been so lucky. A record-breaking heatwave, exceptionally dry conditions and lightning from a rare thunderstorm—all made worse by climate change and happening during the Covid-19 pandemic—have fueled some of California’s largest wildfires.
The economic costs associated with the 2020 fires are still unknown, but by all estimates, the amount spent by municipalities to contain the fires is staggering.
“And that’s not the total fire cost,” said fire ecologist Robert W. Gray, adding that wildfires cost far more than the taxpayers often realize because the costs don’t happen all at once.
“Colorado is still paying for the damages the Hayman Fire from 2002 did to its watershed—so the costs are really quite significant,” Gray said. “Infrastructure damages can occur up to a decade afterward because we’ve taken vegetation off the site, we have a significant rainfall event on a burn scar, and out comes the watershed.”[Read more…]