How the Carr Fire Ushered ‘The New Normal’ into Northern California

On July 23rd, 2018, a flat tire on a trailer sparked a wildfire in the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. 39 days later, that fire that burned over 1,600 structures, claimed seven lives and torched 230,000 acres. We didn’t know it at the time, but everything would change after the Carr Fire.

Northern California locals are no stranger to wildfires. Residents who live in rural communities are used to the occasional flare ups which could force them to evacuate or even burn some homes. But the years since that fateful day in 2018 have been different. We now face the new normal – one that has changed face of NorCal from beauty personified to wildfire wasteland.

By the time the Carr Fire was fully contained, it had become the sixth largest wildfire in California’s history. Today, six more fires have burned larger than Carr (the Dixie Fire will likely surpass Carr’s size in the coming days), with the six largest fire’s in the states history all happening in the three years since. At the time, the flames of the Carr Fire seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe. Now, it’s simply the norm.

The Carr Fire captured the attention of the world when its “Firenado” ripped through neighborhoods in west Redding. The fire moved all the way from Whiskeytown to Trinity and Shasta Lakes, covering nearly 360 square miles. The flames began as any wildfire and spread rapidly over a three-day period. The fast expansion was never seen by locals and left unprecedented devastation in its path. See this simulation of the fire’s growth from CalFire

The devastation in Redding was heavily reported on an international stage. Vice News Tonight shot a video series documenting the plight of the victims who have nothing left after losing their homes. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the burned areas, likening them to what he has seen in war zones around the world.

Burned boats at Whiskeytown Lake’s Oak Bottom Marina.

The damage at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area was extensive. Utility poles and power lines were down throughout the park and a sewage treatment plant was destroyed. At least seven cabins were destroyed at the popular N.E.E.D. Camp, an environmental camp for elementary students. Oak Bottom Marina was hit hard by the fire, including the destruction of over 40 boats. Today, sections of the park still remain closed, including the popular trail to Brandy Creek Falls.

In the three years since the Carr Fire, we’ve seen the largest fire (August Complex Fire – 1,032,648 acres), as well as the deadliest and most destructive fire (Camp Fire – 85 deaths and 18,804 structures burned) in California’s history. In retrospect, the Carr Fire feels small. But it certainly wasn’t and it will continue to impact the communities surrounding Redding for years to come.

A lot has changed in the past four years as we enter what could be the worst fire season in California’s history. Fire is now a way of life for everyone in Northern California. And it all started with the Carr Fire.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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