Study guide: Impact of Southern California wildfires

Friday, December 8, 2017


  1. Four different wildfires continue to ravage Southern California for a fifth day in a row.
  2. Hundreds of thousands of people have evacuated and several hundreds of homes have been destroyed. A total of 265 schools have closed throughout the region.
  3. Poor residents are far less protected against extreme weather disasters. Farm workers, many undocumented, often need to return to work despite dangerously smokey and windy conditions. While most of the fire crews are public employees,* private firefighters are hired by insurance companies or large ranchers in order to prevent damage to homes.

Discussion questions

  1. Essential question Why are wildfires such a significant problem?
  2. What are a few key events that usually take place when a wildfire breaks out close to where people live?
  3. Before the government in ancient Rome created public fire departments, wealthy patricians had their own private fire crews. (They would lend these crews to the public at a price, negotiating with the property owner as his home continued to burn.) Were you surprised to hear that there are private fire crews for hire in California?
  4. Media literacy question: Given the wildfires location to many news outlets in Los Angeles, media coverage has been significant. Climate scientists report that such attention, despite the difficult circumstances, is a positive thing. Why do you think this is the case?

Extension activity

To learn more about California's prison labor program, read NewsHour's "Incarcerated women risk their lives fighting California fires. It's part of a long history of prison labor."

Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.  @NewsHourExtra