The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Aftermath of a California wildfire – 1 month later

(Photo: Will Dunne-Phillips)

The Eastern Seaboard challenges people with brutal winters and stifling summers. The South has devastating hurricanes that uproot lives as easily as saplings. The Midwest suffers tornados that rip homes and families apart, and the Northwest has more rainfall per year than anywhere else in the country. California’s climate is seemingly desirable, but the reality in having consistently sunny and dry weather causes a lot of trouble.

The drought that people are sick of hearing about hasn’t gone away, and having little to no water doesn’t make it any easier to deal with one of the worst and most dangerous regular disasters in the state: wildfires.

Growing up in California between Tahoe and Sacramento has made me very aware of wildfires, and like many others, I have been close to evacuation. Fire season in California is devastating and frightening, as I have seen before, and recently witnessed again while driving Highway 29 through the Valley Fire.

In September, I stopped in the small city of Middletown where the fire had swept through days before and had become the massive staging ground for the firefight in outlying areas. The air was thick. You could feel the soot soaking into your skin and tensions were high. Despite all the turmoil, the community was sticking together and thankful for the assistance they were receiving.

According to Oakland Police Officer B. Stoltz, the National Guard, police officers and fire departments from as far away as Los Angeles County were assisting, as well as the Bay Area and neighboring counties.

“We have been working week-long shifts instead of our regular five-day shifts, and staying in a local hotel,” said Stoltz.

With destruction everywhere, people were taking advantage by looting properties, a cause for concern to locals. There were signs posted everywhere warning citizens of predators posing as contractors who would take advantage of them at the first chance.

“Homeowners beware,” one sign said. “Check the license first. Unlicensed or unscrupulous contractors may try to scam you.”

Several people entering the filling station where I stopped to take photos were thanking the officers as we were speaking, making it clear that their presence was greatly appreciated.

Another Oakland police officer, A. Jackson, who I spoke to at a gas station, said people had been very responsive and grateful, and for the most part, were just trying to figure out where to go from here.
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“We haven’t really had many problems,” said Jackson. “Everyone is just trying to work together.”

On the front door of the gas station, there were safety brochures and a sign stating that people could shower and do laundry at a local church. Meanwhile, others were waiting for assistance from State Farm Insurance trailers and mobile hospital units set up around the small town.

Driving through the streets, many homes were burned to their foundations, and as some people sifted through the rubble, other homes on the same street stood untouched.

According to Jackson, most of the area at the time was without power, and people were just beginning to return to certain areas where power had been restored. The fire had burned so hot, that many fallen telephone lines had fused with the asphalt or the trees that weren’t taken by the blaze. Along the main street of Middletown, massive rolls of replacement telephone lines and power boxes were being staged by PG&E workers.

If this didn’t constitute a disaster zone, I don’t know what does. The Valley Fire is being called the worst fire in the history of the counties involved, with a loss of 76,067 acres, according to Cal Fire, and the third worst fire in California history.

No one is safe from the forces of nature and Californians will continue to carry that burden wherever they live.

One month after it started, the Valley Fire is fully contained, thanks to Cal Fire and the many volunteers from neighboring fire and police departments, as well as civilian volunteers.

For many who live in towns like Middletown, the flames being put out was just the beginning. Now, the big decision is picking up the pieces and starting over — or just moving on.

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