It’s official: 2020 was the worst year for California wildfires. According to a recent analysis from the LA Times, fires destroyed roughly 3.2 million acres in 2020 alone. From 2011 to 2020, the Golden State lost almost 11 million acres to wildfires. For context, California lost about 7 million acres to wildfires between 2001 – 2010.
As you could imagine, all aspects of life in California have been affected by this year’s massive wildfire season. Of course, it certainly doesn’t help that California is also dealing with COVID-19 lockdowns. To help readers better appreciate the scope of this year’s fires, let’s run through four less apparent effects of 2020’s wildfire season.
Four Lesser-Known Impacts of California’s 2020 Wildfires
California’s Farmers Struggle with Crop Failure & Lung Issues
From almonds and avocados to dairy and dates, California has a reputation as one of America’s agricultural powerhouses.
Unfortunately, wildfire season struck California as many of the state’s farmers reached their harvesting stage. Now, there are serious questions about the quality and quantity of crops agronomists could bring to the market for the 2020 season.
But it’s not just reduced profits that have farmers extra concerned. Now that wildfires (and wildfire smoke) have raged across the state, farmers face the added risk of lung disease due to the horrendous air quality. There have also been reports of heat exhaustion on many California farms.
But even if California farmers had wanted to pick their crops, they might not have access to the safety tools they need. In particular, the state government is struggling to distribute enough N-95 face coverings due to the coronavirus.
“Wildfire Wine” – Ash Adds Nasty Notes to Napa Valley Vineyards
Even non-drinkers know that California is a big deal in the global wine business. Indeed, California is now considered the fourth largest wine producer in the world. According to recent statistics, California wines bring in $57 billion every year, making it one of the state’s most lucrative markets.
However, like so many other crops, many of California’s legendary vineyards are blanketed in soot. In many cases, this ash could work its way into Napa Valley’s legendary grapes.
While smoke doesn’t necessarily make grapes toxic, it often gives them a harsh taste. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for farmers to know whether their grapes have been tainted until they put them through the long (and costly) fermentation process. Obviously, this could be an expensive gamble for vineyards, many of which are already struggling with COVID-19.
Given this scenario, many vineyards have decided to use activated charcoal to remove ash impurities from their 2020 wines. Although activated charcoal does a great job pulling away smoky particles, it also leads to a weaker flavor that might not sell as well.
On the positive side, scientists are looking into ways to prevent “ash tainting” in the future. For instance, chemists in British Columbia are developing novel compounds to shield grapes from ash molecules. Hopefully, more research like this will help California vineyards protect their precious crops during future wildfire seasons.
PETA Draws Attention to CA’s Devastated Wildlife
According to the latest reports, California’s wildfires killed at least 30 people in 2020. But it’s not just humans that have perished in these devastating fires. Indeed, PETA recently revealed numerous wild animals in California’s forests have died in wildfires.
At this point, we don’t have exact estimates on how many animals were affected by California’s wildfires. Still, many environmentalists fear the excess soot in the atmosphere could lead to tainted water for many amphibians and fish.
A few species PETA said were adversely affected by wildfires include coyotes, deer, and foxes. There’s also some concern the wildfires could impact endangered species like the arroyo toad and the condor.
To help reduce the risk of future wildfires, PETA is calling on California to restructure its animal agriculture. Today, California is one of the leading exporters of dairy and beef products.
Wildfires Taint CA’s Water Quality
It’s not just air quality that’s been adversely impacted by California’s wildfires. Indeed, many public health officials have grave concerns over the quality of California’s water supply.
Many of the freshwater lakes and watersheds that supply Californians with water may be contaminated with ash. This is especially concerning in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Currently, the snow runoff in this region supplies about 70 percent of Californians with tap water.
Researchers also point out water affected by wildfires could have an overabundance of compounds like heavy metals, iron, and manganese, all of which have to be filtered out before reaching your sink. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and money to purify these deposits from the watersheds in any affected region.
Although California has many water purification technologies, residents need to be aware of water quality issues. If Californians notice their water has a cloudy appearance or an “off” taste, they should stop using it and contact local authorities.