As Californians await the worst with 77 deaths reported in the wildfire known as Camp Fire and nearly 1,000 reported missing, it’s certainly worth contemplating how devastating such an event would be in other areas of the country, including Michigan.
Critics say the West Coast catastrophe has not experienced the coverage from the East Coast-based media that it deserves. Just consider that Pope Francis, addressing tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square Sunday, offered prayers for the California fire victims thousands of miles away.
While the national media may be in catch-up mode, NBC News has produced a chilling set of maps that illustrate just how damaging the Camp Fire would be if it had occurred in other sections of America.
The wildfire attacked a forest area and open lands adjacent to small cities. In Michigan, we do not endure the droughts and hot, dry blowing winds that spread these California wildfires. At one point, firefighters reported that the Camp Fire was burning an area approximately equivalent to one football field per second as it expanded out of control.
But let’s consider what a relatively comparable section of our state, such as central Michigan’s Midland area, could have faced under similar weather conditions with a fire spreading at a rapid pace.
The NBC maps show that, in a comparison, all of Midland would have burned down, including the Northwood University campus and surrounding woodlands. The fire would have spread westward nearly halfway to Mount Pleasant. And it would have consumed a wide swath of area to the east stretching just short of the Saginaw Bay and to the outskirts of the MBS International Airport.
Elsewhere in west Michigan and in the southeast section of the state, comparisons are largely designed to explain the enormity of the deadly California Camp Fire. Clearly, a blaze such as this would not have the combustion of a forest fire to engulf an urban/suburban area such as the Detroit tri-county area.
Yet, geographic assessments demonstrate the horror of this American catastrophe as NBC created roughly 1,000 maps that display the gruesome results of the Camp Fire if it had occurred in cities – large and small – across the U.S.
For example, the NBC maps show that if the fire had originated in a northern section of Detroit, it would have burned down most of the city; some of Dearborn; all of Hamtramck and Highland Park; parts of the Grosse Pointes; Southfield, Royal Oak, Warren and Roseville entirely; and large portions of Sterling Heights.
Since Nov. 8, the California Camp Fire has destroyed nearly all of 386 square miles. In comparison, Macomb County’s land mass consists of 479 square miles and in neighboring Oakland County, land area is 868 square miles.
So, if the wildfire had first sparked in the southern Oakland County suburbs, the fire could have consumed nearly all of Oakland south of 14 Mile Road. If it started in southern Macomb County, the fast-moving flames might have burned up everything in Macomb south of Hall Road (M-59) and a bit more to the north.
Overall, the NBC maps show that the northern California fire has now consumed the equivalent of 17 Manhattans. This is a tragedy — not a deadly terrorist attack but rather a natural disaster — that far exceeds in destruction what happened on 9/11 in lower Manhattan.
One more thing: Most of these NBC geographic evaluations in Middle America are based on the destruction as of last Thursday, while the Camp Fire is still not extinguished.
Also, if you want to get a sense of how devastating this California fire was in the early hours, take a look at the New York Times’ interactive map that outlines the first 12 hours of ruin spreading from rural to relatively urban areas.