Wildfires are nothing new to life in California, but the most recent outbreak of fires in northern California, which started Oct. 8, grew to 14 separate fires and forced thousands to evacuate.
As of Monday, Oct. 16, the fires killed 36 people, destroyed around 5,700 structures and burned over 221,000 acres, according to CNN. Los Angeles Times reported strong winds, dry terrain and hot temperatures were to blame for the rapidly spreading fires.
According to a New York Times article, victims of the fires received little to no evacuation warning, as most were asleep and unable to hear alerts. Most people did not realize the urgency of the situation, leading them to stall as they prepared to leave.
Junior Travis Dodds is from Yuba City, CA, a town 45 minutes north of Sacramento, CA. He said the closest wildfires are about 20 miles from his house, but his family is feeling the effects of the disaster.
“There’s always been fires near the end of the summer in California, but this is obviously a really big one,” Dodds said. “I’ve been here for so long and haven’t been going home all that much. I’m not as connected as I was there, but hearing about all these places that I’ve been connected to that are kind of more or less burning down or being affected in some way by the fire, it’s been pretty tough to think about.”
Dodds said some of his family members are helping victims in the disaster area. He said his immediate family is always relatively prepared for natural disasters, because their home is prone to fires and floods.
“One of my uncles has been working with the city,” Dodd said. “He’s kind of working side by side with the first responders right now, and a lot of my family in that area has evacuated. I was born in that area, and the hospital I was born in actually burned down last week. My mom spent 20 or 25 years working for the state at a facility in that area and it’s burning down right now.”
Although Dodds said recovery will be difficult, he said people in the community have already started helping one another. He said this is an opportunity to give back to those who have contributed a lot to the town in the past.
“In my town specifically, no one’s really been affected that much except for a pretty prominent business owner who’s always been a really generous guy in the community,” Dodds said. “His home actually burned down last week. A lot of people in my town have kind of come together to help him out, because it was obviously a really sudden thing. They weren’t prepared for it. My family is actually moving to Texas in a couple weeks, so they’re giving a lot of their furniture to him.”
Sophomore Tiffany McCune is from Orange, CA, and she said the fires originally started in the hills around her hometown. She said the severity of damage in the area ranged from an evacuation warning to total destruction.
“A lot of my church family is from that area, and a lot of them were put on a warning and actually had to evacuate,” McCune said. “A close friend of mine, in her neighborhood, half of the homes in her neighborhood were actually burned down, but her [house] was fine.”
McCune said not only were homes affected, but some schools were forced to close for a short time. However, she said the situation is improving, and students are now back in the classroom. McCune said her family is not in immediate danger now, but some people in the area are still evacuating.
“We were just put on a warning just like, ‘Hey, be prepared,’” McCune said. “My cousins who live in Anaheim Hills, they were actually told to evacuate. Their neighborhood is fine. They’re east of the fire, so everyone’s good.”
Although McCune has stayed in contact with friends and family in California, she said it has been unsettling to hear information second-hand. The wildfires affected Disneyland as well, and McCune said it is shocking to see pictures of damage to areas she knows so well.
“It’s really weird when you see like your friends on Twitter talking about, and sending all these pictures and I’m just like, ‘That’s crazy,’” McCune said. “I’m not there and I’m texting all of them, ‘Hey, are you okay? Are you okay?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s just crazy.’”
In Orange, CA, Peters Canyon Regional Park burned in the fires, and McCune said it was devastating for her. She said she has a lot of good memories from the area.
“There’s a park that I take my dog to every single week, and it was actually completely burned down,” McCune said. “It’s got mountains on it. It’s a small area, but it’s like a park, which you don’t really get there. That was a really nice area where a lot of people took their dogs and walked and exercised and stuff, and it’s completely burned down.”