2.06 CALIFORNIA:The fire, the valley and the desert
As climate change exacerbates droughts and wild fires across California, the systems that have been put in place to protect the state from climatic shocks are beginning to fail. But that's not all that is happening, in the absence of federal assistance communities are creating their own support networks.
Burn out, White Wolf Road, Bakersfield, (2019)
California is America’s wealthiest and most populous state. Through the transportation of water and the suppression wildfires, California has transformed its landscape into Americas fruit bowl. Yet as climate change exacerbates droughts, wild fires and  floods across the region, the systems that have been put in place to protect the state from climatic shocks are beginning to fail, thereby thrusting another side of California's success story into the spotlight, its social vulnerability.
The 2018 Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wild fire in Californian history. Named after Camp Creek Road, its place of origin in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near Pulga, the fire started at 6.30am on the November 8, 2018. Exacerbated by a climate change intensified fuel load, following 10 years of sever drought, the fire spread rapidly through the grassland and forested landscape destroying properties in Concow before becoming an urban firestorm in the densely populated foothill town of Paradise.
The burnt landscape around Concow Lake, Butte County, California (2019)
The burnt landscape around Concow Lake, Butte County, California (2019)
The fire started when sparks from poorly maintained Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) power cables ignited nearby foliage in high winds. On previous Red Flag Days (days that have extreme fire potential) PG&E had cut power to lines that could cause potential fires but on this occasion even though they deployed prerecorded telephone messages about potential power cuts, the power remained on. The company is responsible for numerous fires between 2016-2018 including the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa and has since declared bankruptcy following a law suit that found the company guilty of causing multiple fires across the sate and ordering them to pay 13.5 Billion Dollars in compensation to fire victims.
PG&E Power Lines above Camp Fire Road, seen from Concow, Butte County, California (2019)
PG&E Power Lines above Camp Fire Road, seen from Concow, Butte County, California (2019)
By the time the fire was contained on November 25 it had caused at least 85 fatalities, burnt an area of 153,336 acres (240 sq. miles), and destroyed 18,804 structures, with damage totalling $16.5 billion.
Burnt hill, Concow, Butte County, California (2019)
As a result of the fire consuming buildings and vehicles and fire fighters trying to suppress the blaze, environmental contaminants such as asbestos, benzine, heavy metals, arsenic, dioxins, and other hazardous materials such as fire retardants now pollute the burnt communities and their drinking water infrastructure. Delayed by the decontamination process and deterred from coming back to Paradise by the lack of functional infrastructure, most of the town’s 20,000 former residents have not returned. However as federal support for fire victims dries up many of those that have no financial means to relocate have returned to Paradise to live in RV’s, tents or cars and as a result are being exposed to contaminates on their lots.
Burnt truck, The White Water Saloon, Paradise, Butte County (2019)
Sam’s Liquor, Paradise, Butte County (2019)
When at 7.46am the first evacuation order was given to residents of the eastern side of Paradise and an automated phone call went out to residents, many  were just waking up, on their way to work or dropping of their kids at school and therefore did not receive the order to leave. While others thought that they had more time to evacuate and that the fire would not spread so fast. When at 9.17am it became painfully clear that the evacuation of the whole town was necessary Paradise was already ablaze with multiple spot fires and by 12.02pm the smoke over paradise was so thick that it plunge the town into darkness.
The Camp Fire, 10.45am, November 8, 2018, Nasa Earth Observatory, (2018)
Derrick left early for collage as normal on the morning of the 8th of November, not knowing that the fire that was burning out side of Paradise was going to engulf the town. While waiting for his bus to collage he took this image of the orange glow below the fires smoke plume.
Derrick’s picture of the Camp fire, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Derrick’s picture of the Camp fire, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Derrick and his father lost their home to the fire that day. When they were finally allowed to returned to see what remained of their house on the fifth of December, almost a month later, the only belongings that they could salvage we those stored in a floor safe within the concrete foundations of the house and even they were scorched by the intense heat of the inferno. Derrick and his father are currently living in an RV within the parking lot of the Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Centre where they both volunteer.
Burnt home, 7194 Clark Road, Paradise, Butte County (2019)
Initially established as a Red Cross distribution centre to dispense food and water when the town first reopened in December 2018, The Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Centre unwittingly found itself at the forefront of community efforts to shelter, feed and shower those that had returned from the community.
Reception, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Manned by volunteers, many of whom lost their homes to the fire and some of which now live on site, the centre provides washing facilities, food, household items, toiletries and clothes to member of the community that have been impacted by the fire. The centre, which soon after the fire found itself serving 1000 Camp Fire Survivors a day and still sees 300 beneficiaries on a typical day, is organised and run by Pastor Kevin (The Pastor with a pony tail) and his wife, Shell, Doreen and Dennis, with help from Charlene, Derrick and his father, Cathy and many others.
Pastor Kevin, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Vegetable Donations, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Doreen, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Having lost his home in the fire Dennis began volunteering at the centre and in exchange was given a place to stay. He soon became an invaluable member of the organisational team that runs the distribution of donations to Camp Fire Survivors. He is now living permanently on site in an RV, the brown Winnebago pictured behind him, that was given to him in light of his work for the centre.
Dennis, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Though many of the volunteers that have lost their homes continue to live on site, some have returned to live on their lots in tents, cars or RV’s following the removal of their destroyed houses and the decontamination process. However, while many lots have been decontaminated, most notably those belonging to affluent returning residents that have already begun to rebuild their homes having paid private contractors to clean up, many of those who are less fortunate are still waiting for lots to be cleaned up by federal agencies. As a result those who have no other option but to return to Paradise and live on their lots in temporary accommodation are turning to the Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Centre for support many months after the fire.
Burnt and melted post and newspaper boxes, 1909-1911 Crandall Way, Paradise, Butte County (2019)
Seven months on from the fire, the Centre still feeds up to 120 families a week through it's donations. Beneficiaries, which the centres volunteers refer to as shoppers, are invited to shop for what they need as if they were visiting a supermarket, having been given a shopping basket upon entry. Set up using the selfs from one of Paradises supermarkets that closed following the fire, the centre’s food section is arranged into isles. Although food availability varies depending on donations which leads to restrictions on key items like meat, shoppers typically leave with canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, cereal bars, bread, bottled water, juice and when possible  fresh vegetables, meat and dairy products.
Bread donations, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
With food being distributed in the church hall, other provisions such as clothes, cleaning products and house hold items are given away in large temporary tents that have been set up in the car park of the church.
Camp fire survivors shopping at Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Clothing donations, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Not only catering for Camp Fire Survivors, the centre also serves members of the community who were fortunate enough not to lose their homes, who have since been impacted by reduced access to food and water due to the loss of many of the towns shops and businesses during the fire. Miraculously, Bob and Georgia’s home in Magalia was spared by the fire though many neighbouring properties were total destroyed. Like most of the former residents of Paradise and Magalia, Bob and Georgia had come to Paradise to retire, in their case from Alaska and now face the prospect of having to move away if the towns amenities, including medical facilities were not going to be rebuilt.
Bob and Georgia, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
In remembrance of the fire Derrick had recently gotten a tattoo on his left forearm. Pointing out the Japanese style flames that represent the fire, the open pine cone at it's centre and the date that the fire started: November 8th, Derrick explained that the pine cone refers to species of pine that have adapted to open their pine cones and release their seeds after being burnt such as California’s Monterey pine. In this way he said, the tattoo referred to rebirth and new beginnings and not only to the impact the fire has had on his life. Although Derrick’s father can no currently afford to send him to collage Derrick still aspires to become a personal trainer or a writer and hopes to attend classed again next year.
Derrick’s Tattoo commemorating the Camp fire, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Derrick’s Tattoo commemorating the Camp fire, Magalia Community Church Resource & Recovery Center, Butte County (2019)
Although residence and local officials wish to rebuild Paradise, questions still remain about how to mitigate the towns vulnerability to future fires and make evacuations safer. With homes being rebuilt and plenty of woodland still left to burn, concerns ares being raised about the roads in and out of town. With only five two-lane roads and one four-lane road leading out of town and 27 thousand people in residence when the Camp Fire struck, traffic congestion caused at least seven fatalities. As residents tried to evacuate, the fire forced officials to close three of the five routes out of town, which clogged remaining roads. With the main road (Skyway) ground to a halt and it taking as much as two hours to get to Chico from Paradise, normally a 20 minuet journey, some had to abandon there cars as they ran out of fuel or as the fire threatened to overtake them leading fire crews to have to bulldoze cars of the road to gain access to the fire and trapped persons.
Coutolenc Road, Paradise, Butte County (2019)
The October 2017 Tubbs Fire was at the time, the most destructive wild fire in California history killing 22 people and burning more than 5,643 structures across an area of 36,810 acres (149 km2) costing $1.2 billion (U.S). Now less than two years after the fire destroyed their homes many residents have already rebuilt their homes having been paid out by their insurers.
Homes under reconstruction, I. 1996, Long Leat Court, II. 1727 Kerry Lane, III. 3628, Perk Place, Santa Rosa (2019)
With residents constructing houses on their plots in exactly the same way as before and some building back bigger with no additional disaster reduction strategies being implemented, the cost of of communities living in wildfire prone zones will continue to rise as increasing fire fighting expenditure, insurance claims, lost business revenue and depreciating property values weigh in. As climate change continues to exacerbate the prevalence of wild fires, fire vulnerability will increase in the U.S. for as long as developers are allowed to build without regulations in wild-land urban interface areas that are fire prone.
Burnt homes are rebuilt, Coffee Park, Santa rosa, Image © Maxar Technologies, Google Earth, (2018-2019)
Homes under reconstruction, I. 1996, Long Leat Court, Santa Rosa  (2019), II. 1727 Kerry Lane, Santa Rosa (2019), III. 3628, Perk Place, Santa Rosa (2019)
Although wildfires are naturally occurring phenomena that are in many ways welcomed by Califonia's forests because they clear overgrown forest floors and deadwood, climate change is intensifying fires to the point that they are destroying the trees that normal benefit from a burn. When the Meadow Fire started in Yosemite National Park on July 19, 2014 in the region of Star king Lake during a lighting storm, the fire killed a large number of trees that would otherwise not have died.
Burn scar from the 2014 Meadow Fire, Nevada Falls seen from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park (2019)
Un like many of the previous fires that had afflicted the park the damage caused by the Meadow fire was severe. The high intensity wildfire burned hot and in some areas large fir and lodge pole pines were reduced to charcoal effigies. The California Drought, having killed 102 million trees between 2014-16 throughout the state, had increased the fuel load of the fire and made the forest tinder dry. Even after the fire had been extinguished, the drought continued to slow the recovery of areas that had been burnt. Due to the lack of precipitation the forest floor was still covered in a thick layer of ash in the summer of 2015 and re-growth was scarce.  
Burn scar from the 2014 Meadow Fire around Mt Starr seen from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park (2019)
The California drought also significantly impacted California’s Central Valley. Exacerbating The valley’s already existing water stress, the drought, which lasted from December 2011 to March 2017, was one of the most intense droughts in California history, with the period between 2011 and 2014 being the driest in California history.
Burn out, White Wolf Road, Bakersfield, (2019)
The valley which is the most profitable agricultural region in the U.S grows 250 varieties of crops, many of which are water intensive like almonds and oranges. As a result of the drought farmers began to drill additional bore holes and draw hard on the valleys aquifers, further depleting ground water levels and causing the already subsiding valley; which has slumped as much as 10 meters in some areas, to sink deeper.
Young orange trees and irrigation, White Wolf Road, Bakersfield, (2019)
As the valleys aquifers are depleted and the land sinks, arsenic is being sucked out of subterranean layers of clay into the ground water which is depended on by the valley’s residents for drinking water. With the introduction of Sustainable Groundwater Management act to curb access to water and shrink the valley’s agricultural footprint by thousands of acres, sizeable portions of the valley will soon be turned into solar-energy farms. With many of the regions inhabitants dependant upon work in the agricultural sector and their being little alternative employment the prospect of future droughts destroying crops and jobs is a daunting one.
Irrigation ditch, Rowlee Road, Wasco, (2019)
California’s Central Valley suffers from acute poverty of up to 20% in some areas and unemployment rates of up to 9.2%. Six of the ten highest metropolitan unemployment rates in the U.S. are found within the valley’s cities. As a result the valley has a sizeable homeless population, with approximately 5,000 homeless individuals residing in the city of Fresno alone, living in cars, abandoned buildings or on the streets in improvised shelters, tents or in the open. John, who was from Shasta Country, had in his own words been walking about when he ended up stuck in Fresno, sleep out in the open under a bridge.
John, H Street, Fresno (2019)
G Street is home to several of Fresno's biggest homeless encampments made up of temporary shelters erected against fences and clusters of tents in close proximity to The Fresno Rescue Mission. The encampments are home to a population of primarily African America and hispanic residents, mostly form California like Dan the Lion one of G Street's well known residents, who was a retiree originally from Torrence in Los Angelis who had lived on G Street for 5 years. Others were from as far away as New York like David who had come to California to avoid the cold.  Due to the cities heavy handed approach to homelessness G streets is regularly shaken down in early moring raids by Fresno police department's Homelessness Task Force and the cities sanitation department who pressure wash the side walks to disinfect them.
Wheelchair, G Street, Fresno (2019)
David from New York, H Street, Fresno (2019)
With little state resources in place to help Fresno's homeless population  apart from a monthly social security payment due to a deficit of temporary housing, community organisations are stepping in to provide support in the form of shelter, access to drug rehabilitation and housing programs, food pantries, soup kitchens and food banks. Staffed primarily by volunteers organisations like Poverello house on F street serve more than 1,200 meals a day.
Dumpster, Federal Alley, Fresno (2019)
While some of those who are living on the street in Fresno are there because of meth amphetamine or alcohol addictions or having chosen the life style, the high price of rent in California due to the lack of affordable housing means that even those who are working full time in low wage jobs can end up living on the streets. With California already maintaining the nations highest number of homeless people and numbers set to increase as wild fires leave increasing amounts of people homeless and properties destroyed.
_______ behind the Bank of America, China Alley, Fresno (2019)
Not just dependant upon charities and social security payments, Fresno's homeless community also supports its self. James, a former truck driver who had become homeless following previous problems with alcohol addiction explained how by working and sheltering together, he and his companions looked after each other. In doing so the group protected each other and their belonging’s, pooled resources like food and money together to by bulk food products and supported each other mental health.
Cart carrying belongings, 4803 East Mckinley Avenue, Fresno (2019)
However as Maria, a friend of James's explained a women's  experience of living on the street was far more dangerous than that of a man. Referring to a well known homeless individual on G Street, Maria described how women would only be allowed to stay on G Street by the man if they would have sex with him. For women, Maria said, there is a constant risk of being sexually exploited and forced into prostitution by other homeless men in return for drugs or protection. "Thats why you only hear about homeless women turning up dead in ditches in town like Fresno and not men."
Maria, Mc Donald’s car park, 4803 East Mckinley Avernew, Fresno (2019)
Fresno was, and still is home to environmental migrants who came to California’s central valley in the 1930’s in search of work when they were displaced from the Mid West by the dust bowl and the Great Depression. Working to pick cotton in the fields surrounding the town, the migrants which were referred to as “Okies” or “Arkies” regardless of where they were from, faced xenophobia, food insecurity and poverty, but ultimately were able to eek out a living where they had not been able to in the dust bowl. As water use restrictions reduce the land that can be cultivated in the valley to avoid California's own version of the dust bowl, low skilled jobs will decline leaving increasing numbers of people prone to homelessness unless alternative jobs are generated in sustainable industries or increased support such as a universal basic income is forthcoming.
Irrigation ditch, Mill Ditch, East Mckinley Avernew, Fresno (2019)
Irrigation ditch, Mill Ditch, East Mckinley Avernew, Fresno (2019)
Although it may lacks water, California is not short on sunshine. The Mojave Desert receives as much as twice the amount of solar radiation as other regions of the U.S at between 6 and 7 kilo-watt hours per square meter per day. This abundance of solar energy make the desert increasingly popular with private developers who build solar power stations as California strives to ween its self of fossil fuelled energy generation.
Vanishing point and power poles, Harper Lake Road, Hinkley (2017)
The privately developed Mojave Solar Project generates 617,000 MWh of power annually, enough to power more than 88,000 households and to prevent the emission of over 430 kilotons of C02. Using the deserts solar thermal energy, the facility generates steam which expands through a turbine generator to produce electricity which is then sold to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). However, the continuing privatisation of renewable energy production in California and the monopolistic character of the electricity industry could lead to wasteful duplication of infrastructure and generate few incentives to improve and uphold the efficiency and reliability of the power grid as competing firms try to reduce costs, thereby increasing the risk of fires across the state.
The Mojave Solar Project, Lockhart Ranch Road, Hinkley (2019)
The Mojave Solar Project, Lockhart Ranch Road, Hinkley (2019)
The Mojave Solar Project, Lochart Ranch Road, Hinkley (2019)
Although the Mojave’s solar plants are reducing green house gas emissions they are not without environmental impacts. With most having been built on previously undisturbed desert locations impacts include the destruction of endangered desert flora, the death of fauna, the use of water for cooling systems in already water stressed areas and in some cases the continued emission of green house gasses by solar technology that utilise fossil fuels.
Wind breaks and power poles, The Mojave Solar Project, Lockhart Ranch Road, Hinkley (2019)
The three towers at the Ivanpah concentrated solar thermal plant are dependant on natural gas to pre-heat their boilers to make steam before commencing operation. 46,084 metric tones of C02 were emitted by the plant in 2014 to generate 219 GWh of electricity, almost double the GWh that would have been produced by burning the gas alone. Though the efficiency and output of the plant has increased it continues to emit carbon dioxide. The towers also significantly impact the Mojave deserts wild life as large numbers of birds and bats being injured or killed as they are burnt in the 540˚C solar flux created by the mirror field or as they collide with the mirrors themselves.
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, Heliostat 2, Coloseam Road, Nipton (2019)
Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, Heliostat 1, 2 and 3, from Nipton road, (2019)
With wind power generation providing a less water intensive and ecological impactful alternative to solar, a number of sights within the Mojave desert have been set aside for wind farms. The Tehachapi Pass, which overlooks the desert, is already home to several different wind farms and was one of the first sites to have been developed to harness wind power in the U.S. The privately developed Alta wind energy Centre is the third largest on shore wind farm in the world and the largest in the U.S produces 3.3 million mega watts hours a year from 600 wind turbines reducing carbon emissions by 5.2 million metric tons of CO2.
Wind turbine in the Alta Wind Energy Centre, Old Creek Road, Mojave (2019)
Without reducing global consumption of electricity and re-purposing former fossil fuel extraction sites to build more efficient nationalised solar and wind facilities, we will continue to destroy valuable ecosystems and risk increase energy poverty amongst those who will be hardest hit by climate change.
2.06 CALIFORNIA:The fire, the valley
and the desert
As climate change exacerbates droughts, wild fires and  floods across California, the systems that have been put in place to protect the state from climatic shocks are beginning to fail. But that's not all that is happening, in the absence of federal assistance communities are creating their own support networks.