At first, he heard the screams on the other end of the line. Then the phone went dead as Donald Kewley watched the flames draw nearer to his neighbor’s home. The next day, Kewley learned that the two young children and their grandmother, all of whom he tried to warn of the encroaching fire the night before, did not get out of their home in Redding alive.
The latest wildfire to rage across Northern California has killed at least eight people including two fire firefighters, destroyed some 1,000 homes and buildings, and scorched more than 260,000 acres in just a few days. Many more homes in the area are threatened.
That should not come as a surprise. Studies suggest that more Americans are choosing to live in areas prone to devastating wildfires. Some 43 million homes are in what scientists call the “wildland-urban interface”, where residential homes are built on wildland vegetation, such as trees and shrubs.
Fire experts and climatologists says the current fire, which began in a rural community before roaring through the neighborhoods of Redding — a city of some 92,000 residents about 250 miles north of San Francisco – proves how vulnerable urban areas are to wildfires.
Hotter weather is drying out vegetation, creating intense fires that spread quickly from rural areas to city subdivisions, where wildland-urban interface has put these communities in destruction’s path. In just the past year, fires have devastated neighborhoods in the Northern California wine country city of Santa Rosa and the Southern California beach city of Ventura.
That’s enough of a reminder to prompt city leaders to call for more funding from the state legislature that would enable firefighters to respond more quickly to areas where conditions are ripe for a fast-moving blaze to start.
Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of GrantWatch.com, said funds are available to assist these interface communities mitigate the unique risks they face from wildfires. GrantWatch.com posts these funding opportunities aimed at reducing hazardous fuel, and providing information and education, assessment and planning, and monitoring through community and landowner action.
While these grants fund strategies from the National Wildfire Plan to manage risk, on another front, lawmakers are debating who should pay for the billions of dollars in damage. Disaster relief is available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for individuals and public organizations.
For individuals, the maximum FEMA grant is $32,000. That money can be used to repair or replace a damaged or destroyed home, vehicle or other property as well as cover costs for short-term living expenses. The catch is that FEMA grants can only be applied toward an expense not already covered by another government agency or insurance.
The “Carr Fire,” the most formidable of 17 blazes currently raging in California and among 94 across the United States from Texas to Alaska, was started by a spark from a malfunctioning vehicle at the intersection of iconic Highway 299 and Carr Powerhouse Road in Redding. Officials say the blaze is already one of the 10 most destructive fires in California history. Last year, wildfires in California killed 44 people, burned more than 500,000 acres and cost the state some $9 billion in insurance claims.
Meanwhile, firefighters struggle to contain the active blazes across the nation as concern spreads all over the world for the victims left in the wake of these ravaging infernos. So far, citizens from 50 states and 18 countries have dug deep into their pockets to make donations to crowdfunding campaigns that support California residents affected by the Carr Fire.
About the Author: Staff Writer for GrantWatch.com