As six large wildfires and several smaller fires burn across Southern California, firefighters, first responders and everyday Americans are stepping up—and risking their lives—to rescue fellow citizens, homes, buildings and animals from the blazes.
About 5,700 firefighters are battling the region's brushfires around the clock in intense heat and grueling conditions.
Some come from nearby states, such as Genesee Dennis from the Seaside Fire Department in Oregon who is putting out the Creek Fire with colleagues.
"We just do it. And us going through a 24-hour shift is nothing compared to folks losing their homes," Dennis told CBSLA.
Take a moment to give some thought and thanks to firefighters who are out there every day keeping people safe. Some… https://t.co/kF0cWimsLH— FOX 32 News (@FOX 32 News)1512699299.0
The Los Angeles Police Department touted that their motto "To Protect and Serve" applies in many ways. The department posted an image of an officer in a respirator carrying a cat as smoke billowed from behind.
"For some it might just be a cat," the tweet said. "But to others it's a friend, a loved one, a companion."
For some it might just be a cat. But to others it’s a friend, a loved one, a companion. The #LAPD has a motto, “To… https://t.co/VFbusBfRM8— LAPD HQ (@LAPD HQ)1512608609.0
Other Californians have braved harrowing conditions to save animals. In the video seen above, a man steps into the scorching Ventura County highway to rescue a wild rabbit.
The clip has since gone viral with many on social media calling the man a hero.
"If you need your faith in humanity restored just watch this video of a man saving a wild bunny from the #LAFires," one person tweeted.
Several locals also banded together to save a horse trapped in a ditch as fires raged in Sylmar, California.
"A veterinarian tranquilized the horse, others began moving furniture out of a garage and LA County fire freed up a small crew to help with the rescue," Gina Silva, a reporter with Fox 11, wrote on Instagram.
"They all tore down the wall to free the animal. The horse was then immediately transported to a nearby animal hospital."
In Ventura County, a group of five friends used garden hoses to beat back flames at homes owned by people they've never met.
"For us, this is our community," John Bain, one of the group members, told the Los Angeles Times. "I consider this our home. When something like this happens … you can sit around for things to get better or you can try to go out there and do something."
Evacuation centers and animal shelters are housing people and pets displaced by the fires. The Times reported that Los Angeles Unified school officials have opened centers where students affected by wildfires can pick up free meals.
It's clear that in times like these, when Mother Nature is at her worst, humanity can be at its best.
5 friends from Camarillo banded together and went to Ventura to do what they can: help try stop homes from catching… https://t.co/h8LliLevIk— Marcus Yam 火 (@Marcus Yam 火)1512470886.0
In fact, the Golden State has been experiencing a higher frequency of intense wildfires in recent years, with 13 of the largest 20 wildfires in state history breaking out since 2000.
"Our, if you want to call it, seasons have been elongated by upwards of 40-50 days over the last 50 years and continues to do so," Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean told ABC7 News this week. "We had the five years of drought. A lot of trees died, over 102 million trees died."
So does the SoCal blaze have anything to do with climate change?
Experts say that a mix of conditions is stoking the flames, but a direct link to global warming is still unclear.
However, you can definitely blame the fast-moving blazes on unusually forceful Santa Ana winds, with gusts that have blown between 50 to 80 miles per hour. A color-coded system showing the strength of the winds was "purple" or "extreme" on Thursday—that's completely uncharted territory.
Today’s pass over SoCal unfortunately doesn’t look any better. The fires east of Camp Pendleton and in Baja are vi… https://t.co/14FNPAD8oj— Randy Bresnik (@Randy Bresnik)1512688933.0
John Abatzoglou, an associate professor of geography and climate at the University of Idaho, told The Atlantic that the Santa Ana winds are becoming more prevalent or moving later in the year. The Santa Ana winds commonly occur in Southern California between October and March.
Climate change's effect on the Santa Ana winds is uncertain, but a 2006 study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters "suggested that warming could shift the winds' season leading to larger areas burned by fires," as TIME wrote.
Another unusual condition occurring in the region is the lack of rain. The state's wet season should have started by now but “much of the southern half of California is pitching a shutout in terms of rainfall to date," Abatzoglou further explained. That's a characteristic of a weak La Niña in the tropical Pacific, which is causing cooler global temperatures but preventing storms from making landfall in Southern California, he said.
Other scientists have tied California's fires to rising temperatures and years of epic drought that dried tree canopies, grasses and brush that spark wildfires.
"There's a clear climate signal in these fires because of the drought conditions connected to climate change," Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, told InsideClimate News.
The years 2014, 2015 and 2016 have been the third, second and first hottest years on record to date, and each of these years hosted its own record-breaking fire in the state.
"As long as there's fuel to burn, your chances of having large fires increases when you increase temperatures. It's that simple," added Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.