California gets whiplash of disasters this year

Updated 2:50 PM EST, Thu December 7, 2017
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Story highlights

California has dealt with floodings, landslides, wildfires this year

Homes, infrastructure have been destroyed

(CNN) —  

California just can’t catch a break this year.

The year started with torrential rain that unleashed landslides and deadly flooding. The deluge destroyed roads, cut off the iconic Pacific Coast Highway and eroded key infrastructure.

Then the Golden State became extremely hot and dry – marking its hottest summer ever and a fall heat wave that shattered all-time high records in the Bay Area.

In October, the most destructive fire in California history tore through wine country, as the series of wildfires killed 44 people and destroyed more than 5,000 buildings. Those fires account for more than $9 billion in claimed losses, the state’s Department of Insurance announced Wednesday.

The Creek Fire burns on a hillside in the Shadow Hills neighborhood in Los Angeles. Strong Santa Ana winds are rapidly pushing multiple wildfires across the region.
PHOTO: Mario Tama/Getty Images
The Creek Fire burns on a hillside in the Shadow Hills neighborhood in Los Angeles. Strong Santa Ana winds are rapidly pushing multiple wildfires across the region.

And now Southern California is grappling with a series of massive, uncontrolled wildfires.

“It’s been a year of extreme contrast in California,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

It’s been a whiplash of disasters, from drought, floods, and now massive wildfires. Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency seven times this year, due to such disasters, according to a count of his press releases.

Battered by earth, wind and fire

California has always had wildfires, but this year’s unique combination of rain, heat and wind set off a cascade of events.

The state had been in a five-year drought – that was officially declared over by the governor in April.

“Even though we’re coming out of the drought, it doesn’t mean some of the long-term impacts have gone away,” said Lou Paulson, chairman of the California Fire Foundation. “There’s over a 100 million dead trees in forest areas. Those trees are dying, mainly because those trees are stressed.”

Those dying trees provide fuel on the ground for fires.

Flames rise near a home as a wildfire burns in Ventura.
PHOTO: Jae C. Hong/AP
Flames rise near a home as a wildfire burns in Ventura.