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The Megafires of California Reading Answers IELTS Sample

Updated on 02 February, 2024

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

The Reading Section is one of the most crucial sections of the IELTS exam. You should practice as many IELTS sample papers as possible to get the desired band scores in the IELTS exam. To help with your preparation better, here is a reading passage for practice on the topic ‘the Megafires of California’, along with questions and their answers.

The Megafires of California

There’s a reason fire squads now battling more than a dozen blazes in southern California are having such difficulty containing the flames, despite better preparedness than ever and decades of experience fighting fires fanned by the notorious Santa Ana winds. The wildfires themselves, experts say, generally are hotter, move faster, and spread more erratically than in the past.

The short-term explanation is that the region, which usually has dry summers, has had nine inches less rain than normal this year. Longer term, climate change across the West is leading to hotter days on average and longer fire seasons. Experts say this is likely to yield more mega fires like the conflagrations that this week forced evacuations of at least 300,000 residents in California’s southland and led President Bush to declare a disaster emergency in seven counties on Tuesday.

Megafires, also called “siege fires,” are the increasingly frequent blazes that burn 500,000 acres or more – 10 times the size of the average forest fire of 20 years ago. One of the current wildfires is the sixth biggest in California ever, in terms of acreage burned, according to state figures and news reports. The trend to more superhot fires, experts say, has been driven by a century-long policy of the US Forest Service to stop wildfires as quickly as possible. The unintentional consequence was to halt the natural eradication of underbrush, now the primary fuel for megafires. Three other factors contribute to the trend, they add. First is climate change marked by a 1 -degree F. rise in average yearly temperature across the West. Second is a fire season that on average, is 78 days longer than in the late 1980s. The third is the increased building of homes and other structures in wooded areas.

“We are increasingly building our homes … in fire-prone ecosystems,” says Dominik Kulakowski, adjunct professor of biology at Clark University Graduate School of Geography in Worcester, Mass. Doing that “in many of the forests of the Western US … is like building homes on the side of an active volcano.” In California, where population growth has averaged more than 600,000 a year for at least a decade, housing has pushed into such areas. “What once was open space is now residential homes providing fuel to make fires burn with greater intensity,” says Terry McHale of the California Department of Forestry firefighters union. “With so much dryness, so many communities to catch fire, so many fronts to fight, it becomes an almost incredible job.”

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That said, many experts give California high marks for making progress on preparedness since 2003, when the largest fires in state history scorched 750,000 acres, burned 3,640 homes, and killed 22 people. Stung then by criticism of bungling that allowed fires to spread when they might have been contained, personnel are meeting the peculiar challenges of the neighborhood- and canyon-hopping fires better than in recent years, observers say.

State promises to provide newer engines, planes, and helicopters have been fulfilled. Firefighters unions that then complained of dilapidated equipment, old fire engines, and insufficient blueprints for fire safety are now praising the state’s commitment, noting that funding for firefighting has increased despite huge cuts in many other programs. “We are pleased that the Schwarzenegger administration has been very proactive in its support of us and come through with budgetary support of the infrastructure needs we have long sought,” says Mr. McHale with the firefighters union.

Besides providing money to upgrade the fire engines that must traverse the mammoth state and wind along serpentine canyon roads, the state has invested in better command-and-control facilities as well as the strategies to run them. “In the fire sieges of earlier years, we found out that we had the willingness of mutual-aid help from other jurisdictions and states, but we were not able to communicate adequately with them,” says Kim Zagaris, chief of the state’s Office of Emergency Services, fire and rescue branch. After a 2004 blue-ribbon commission examined and revamped those procedures, the statewide response “has become far more professional and responsive,” he says.

Besides ordering the California National Guard on Monday to make 1,500 guardsmen available for firefighting efforts, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked the Pentagon to send all available Modular Airborne Fighting Systems to the area. The military Lockheed C- 130 cargo/utility aircraft carry a pressurized 3,000-gallon tank that can eject fire retardant or water in fewer than five seconds through two tubes at the rear of the plane. This load can cover an area 1/4- mile long and 60 feet wide to create a fire barrier. Governor Schwarzenegger also directed 2,300 inmate firefighters and 170 custody staff from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to work hand in hand with state and local firefighters.

Residents and government officials alike are noting the improvements with gratitude, even amid the loss of homes, churches, businesses, and farms. By Tuesday morning, the fires had burned 1,200 homes and businesses and set 245,957 acres — 384 square miles — ablaze. Despite such losses, there is a sense that the speed, dedication, and coordination of firefighters from several states and jurisdictions are resulting in greater efficiency than in past “siege fire” situations.

“I am extraordinarily impressed by the improvements we have witnessed between the last big fire and this,” says Ross Simmons, a San Diego-based lawyer who had to evacuate both his home and business on Monday, taking up residence at a Hampton Inn 30 miles south of his home in Rancho Bernardo. After fires consumed 172,000 acres there in 2003, the San Diego region turned communitywide soul-searching into improved building codes, evacuation procedures, and procurement of new technology. Mr. Simmons and his neighbors began receiving automated phone calls at 3:30 a.m. Monday morning telling them to evacuate. “Notwithstanding all the damage that will be caused by this, we will not come close to the loss of life because of what we have … put in place since then,” he says.

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Questions 1-6

Complete the following summary of the paragraphs of Reading Passage, using no more than two words from the Reading Passage for each answer. 

Write your answers in boxes 1-6 on your answer sheet.

Guidelines/Tip for Answering These Types of Questions: Candidates are asked to write no more than two words in this type of question. You can quickly scan the passage to answer these questions.

Experts point out that blazes in California are having more heat, faster speed and they 1 ______ more unpredictably compared with former ones. One explanation is that California’s summer is dry, 2 _____ is below the average point. Another long term explanation is that hotter and longer potential days occur due to 3 ______ . Nowadays, Megafires burn 4 ______ the size of forest area caused by an ordinary fire of 20 years ago. The serious trend is mainly caused by well-grown underbrush, which provides 5 ______ for the siege fires. Other contributors are climate change and extended 6 _________.

Questions 7-9

Choose the correct letter, A, B, C, or D.

Write your answers in boxes 7-9 on your answer sheet.

Guidelines/Tip for Answering These Types of Questions: Candidates have to choose the right answer for the questions from the options provided. To answer these questions, read the passage carefully before choosing the right heading.

7. What is the expert’s attitude towards California’s performance after the 2003 mega-fire?

  1. They could have done better
  2. Blamed them on casualties
  3. Improvement made on preparation
  4. Serious criticism

8. According to Governor Schwarzenegger, which one is CORRECT about his effort for firefighting?

  1. Schwarzenegger requested successfully for military weapons
  2. Schwarzenegger led many prison management staff to work together with local firefighters
  3. Schwarzenegger acted negatively in recent mega-fire in California
  4. Schwarzenegger ordered 1,500 office clerks to join the firefighting scene.

9. What happened to Ross Simmon on the day of the megafire breakout?

  1. He was sleeping till morning
  2. He was doing business at Hampton Inn
  3. He suffered employee death on that morning
  4. He was alarmed by machine calls

Questions 10-13

Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 1? 

In boxes 10-13 on your answer sheet, write

TRUE            if the statement agrees with the information

FALSE           if the statement contradicts the information

NOT GIVEN   if there is no information on this

Guidelines/Tip for Answering These Types of Questions: Candidates have to identify the statements that agree with the passage by tallying them with the information provided in the passage. To answer these questions, read the passage carefully before marking it as True or False.

10. The area of open space in California has declined during the past decade.

11. Fire squad wants to recruit more firefighters this year.

12. Firefighters union declared that firefighters have had a more improved and supportive facility by the local  government.

13. Before the year of 2004, well coordination and communication between California and other states already existed in fire siege.

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Solution 1-6

1spreadWildfires have a higher level of heat, move faster, and spread more unpredictable than other kinds of fires.
2rain/rainfallBased on the information, California has dry summers, and there is a low level of rain in the region.
3climate changeAccording to the passage, climate change is the cause of hotter days in the long term.
410 timesThe author of paragraph 3 makes mention of megafires, commonly known as "siege fires," which in the last 20 years have been burning 500,000 acres or more. Megafires, on the other hand, can burn a forest 10 times as large as the average one.
5primary fuelAccording to the reference paragraph, "the US Forest Service's century-long policy of stopping wildfires as quickly as possible has led to more superhot fires, experts say.". Unintentionally, this led to the regrowth of underbrush, which now serves as a primary fuel for megafires.” Underbrush serves as the primary fuel for megafires based on these lines.

fire season


According to paragraph 3, climate change is causing hotter days and longer fire seasons throughout the West over the long run.  Climate change, as well as fire season, is one of the causes of megafires, which are enormous fires that cause destruction to large areas. 

Solution 7-9

7CIn the said passage, there is a line confirming experts' viewpoints on California's performance after the mega-fire. "Many experts had praised California for its progress on preparedness since 2003, when one of the state's largest fires burned 7,640 homes and killed 22 people." Progress is a synonym for improvement. As a result, experts praised the improved approach (via preparation) to dealing with megafires.
8BIf you read through, there is a line in the said paragraph that suggests “Governor Schwarzenegger also directed 2,300 inmate firefighters and 170 custody staff from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to work closely with state and local firefighters.” In this line, we see that Governor Schwarzenegger was concerned about firefighting, as he instructed 170 prison management staff to work with firefighters from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 
9DTowards the end of paragraph 10, the author states that Mr. Simmons and his neighbors received an automated call on Monday morning at 3:30 asking them to evacuate. As a result of what we have ... put in place since then, we won't come close to losing lives," he says. This is because Mr. Simmons learned about the mega fire via automated phone calls around 3.30 am. As a result, these calls alarmed him.


Solution 10-13

10TRUEUpon reading the paragraph carefully, you'll see that a line describes how housing has pushed into such areas in California, where population growth has averaged more than 600,000 a year for at least a decade. According to Terry McHale, the California Department of Forestry firefighters union, “What once was open space is now residential homes that provide fuel for fires to bum with greater intensity.” Due to the increase in population in California over the past decade, open spaces in the state have been reduced since people built homes there.
12TRUEAccording to the author's statement, it is clear that the firefighters union's demand for the government to improve and support their facilities is backed up by the fact that "we are pleased that the Schwarzenegger administration has been very proactive with its support of us and has provided budgetary support for the infrastructure needs we've long sought," said a firefighter, Mr. McHale..”
13FALSEAccording to the paragraph, “the state's response has become far more professional and responsive as a result of a 2004 blue-ribbon commission reviewing and revising those procedures,” he says. We can deduce from this line that communication and coordination between the states improved after 2004. Since it got better, this implies there wasn't already good coordination and communication in the fire siege.

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Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

Mrinal Mandal is a study abroad expert with a passion for guiding students towards their international education goals. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering, earned in 2018. Since 2021, Mrinal has been working with upGrad Abroad, where he assists aspiring students in realizing their dreams of studying abroad. With his expertise and dedication, he empowers individuals to navigate the complexities of international education, making their aspirations a reality.

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