On August 13, at 2:45 pm, a massive fire, dubbed the Ranch 2 Fire, swept Azusa, California burning up to 4235 acres to date (NBC News). The fire’s origin is believed to have been in the Azusa Canyon riverbed and has spread North of the San Gabriel Canyon (Highway 39). Due to the exceptionally dry and arid climate, and high temperatures in California, the fire spread rapidly, scorching up to 4,300 acres with 19 percent containment five days later. Emergency first responders struggled to combat the fire due to difficulties in firefighting aerial efforts presented by personal drones flying around helicopters which gave the fire enough time to spread to 2500 acres with 0 percent containment on August 15. As of August 25, the fire is 93 percent contained.
Eye witness reports indicate that the fire was first set in a homeless encampment in Azusa by 36-year old Osmin Palencia, also a resident of the encampment. Palencia has since turned himself in and faces two felonies for arson, one for being during a state of emergency and another for destruction of the Angeles National Forest.
While the initiation of the fire is incredibly unfortunate, it points to a deeper problem in Azusa, with an increase in the homeless population since 2015 from 23 to over 320. This rise is assumed due to the construction of the last two stops of the Metro Gold Line in Azusa (Azusa Downtown and APU/Citrus), which dislocated homeless individuals from around Los Angeles County to the Azusa riverbed. In September last year, Azusa city officials sweeped encampments in this location for a clean-up and for fire prevention, which further dislocated homeless individuals on to the streets of the city. The recent fire once again displaced the riverbed community to the streets of Azusa where the city fails to provide them with resources, both for housing and mental health.
With the encampment lacking food, water, and cool shelter during a time of rising temperatures, it is entirely possible that the frustrations can result in unpredictable consequences. COVID-19 further exacerbated this crisis by preventing access to free water from restaurants and facilities in establishments requiring masks, an obstacle which was absent before the pandemic. Ultimately, the capitalist system that has allowed the homelessness crisis to worsen should be held accountable for the start of the fire. Leaving vulnerable populations without protection from the man-made crisis of global warming would be avoided with a new socialist system that centers the struggles of the people and meeting their needs completely, instead of prioritizing the interests of the ruling class.
Updates on the Ranch 2 fire size and containment reports by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group can be found here.