California wildfires again were front-page news in December. Huge wildfires burned from Los Angles down to San Diego; most were contained by the end of the year. We saw large, expensive homes threatened or outright burned down by the fires. Some fires are only halted when they reach the Pacific Ocean.
Santa Rosa, Calif., was decimated this past fall by wildfires. According to The New York Times, over 5,700 buildings were destroyed in northern California, 2,800 in Santa Rosa alone. According to the Los Angeles Times, there were 42 confirmed deaths caused by these fires.
I have been asked a few times if this type of disaster could happen in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. My answer is that it is certainly possible, just not as probable. Let’s take a look at what circumstances are different and what factors are similar.
Firstly, I would like to compare wildfires to hurricanes. This will help explain differences between New Jersey and California. Hurricanes are an occurrence we in New Jersey are very familiar with. The only thing that saves our coast from hurricanes is we generally don’t get hit with hurricanes. The Jersey Shore is subject to damage from both wave action and storm surge if a hurricane hits us. Even a Category 1 storm, like Sandy, can do extensive damage. Florida, however, gets hit by more hurricanes. Unlike New Jersey’s coast, which is comparatively sheltered, Florida sticks out into the ocean. In many ways it’s just hanging out there, waiting for a storm. [Read more…]