Dear Progressive Caucus Members,
Many of us have watched in horror as the wildfires have taken whole communities and reduced them to ashes. Along with the landscape, the lives of thousands of people have been permanently altered. Many have wondered how Caucus members who live in the areas worst hit might be coping. We thought we’d share thoughts from a couple of members in Northern California. Please read and send your love to all those who have been affected by the catastrophe, in thoughts, words and actions. There are ways you can help…. check out the resources at the end of this email.
— your PC Officers
From Natalie Higley, Lake County
We’re pretty experienced with wildfire in NorCal and especially in Lake County.
In 2015 the Valley Fire exploded on Cobb overnight taking 10,000 acres in less than 6 hours. We spent over a week living in fear with nothing to do but help our people evacuate and prepare ourselves to do the same while a cloud of ash that looked like a volcanic explosion rained down embers on us growing with insane speed each day. In the end that fire took 17 million trees, 76,000 acres of land, 1955 structures, hundreds of livestock and pets, and four human lives. It took out 1/3rd of our housing, forever skyrocketing rent prices and scattering our families to Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. That was the third worst fire in California’s history.
I’m writing this on Friday, October 13th, which is almost day 6 of the multiple fire complexes that hit Northern California, and I guarantee you what’s happening now is exponentially worse than anything we dealt with during the Valley fire. I grew up in Santa Rosa; almost my entire family and all of my (pre-politics) friends live there. I now have over a half dozen family members evacuated from Santa Rosa alone – two of them already know their houses are gone – and one family member whose whereabouts were unknown for four days. Many evacuated in the middle of the night on flaming road ways; my brother in-law in Redwood Valley almost didn’t make it out as his property caught on fire while he and his family were asleep. None of their stories are unique.
Many of the fires spread throughout Lake, Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties are at zero containment which means this is far from over. Already, there are over 30 confirmed casualties, hundreds missing, thousands of structures damaged or gone, and over 170,000 acres burned, with those numbers sure to go up as the days go by. In the amount of time it’s taken to write this, I’ve already received four more evacuation alerts for surrounding communities. Not only is this fire FAR from over but the recovery process for the people who’ve been evacuated will take many years before it’s even considered close to over.
We’ve seen this a lot in Lake County, the first few days of a fire and donations are pouring in from every direction and you have more volunteers than you even know what to do with. Then a week or two goes by and everything stops. Your town drops out of the news, the donations stop coming, then they run out, then your volunteers are gone, and you’re left with campgrounds full of people that have nowhere to go and no one left that cares to help them. The numbers of people displaced by these fires will be unprecedented – a word that I’m sure we’re all tired of hearing, but will likely become more and more common as our natural disasters continue to escalate and our resources continue to be depleted.
We have to do something, not just as progressives, but as human beings who actually care. Of course, money is always one of the largest needs, but volunteering at shelters is crucial and the largest concern here is to remember that this is not a short process. These people will need help for multiple weeks and possibly months to come.
Natalie is a life long Northern California resident.
From Robert Shearer, Humboldt County
As progressive Californians it is in our nature to seek out the root causes of problems, gain greater understanding of the issues, and find ways that we can help make positive changes. So, I want to take a moment to briefly interpret the nature of the catastrophic wildfires and resulting social crisis in the North Bay Area, report on what I’m observing up here on the North Coast, and share some ways we can all contribute to the relief efforts on the ground.
By mid-October each year in California, especially when we get very little early-season rain, we see highly reduced “fuel moisture content” (ie, lots of dry plant materials on the ground). Fire seasons are getting longer as the normal annual drought cycle of our Mediterranean climate gets longer from a changing climate. Additionally, over the last week we’ve witnessed the northern shift of ‘Los Ciclones Tropicales,’ which historically brought its very high seasonal winds to Central America, not California. For the last few years, they’ve been migrating north at a dangerously dry time of year for us. Most of the fires started in Northern California in the last week have been determined to be the likely result of power lines in dry places knocked over by strong winds. This combination of natural drought cycles, long term drought, and intense wind is at the heart of this crisis. Throw that in the mix with over 100 years of bad forestry practices – like extinguishing every single natural wildfire, effectively building up huge fuel loads over decades – and boom! There is no doubt that these events will become more common and destructive unless we comprehensively kick our fossil fuel addiction quickly.
What we’re seeing on the ground now is simply amazing. While it’s easy to focus on the devastation of thousands of evacuees, crowded shelters, missing people and pets, smoky air, and the continuing threat of fire, I want to call attention to the incredible grassroots community efforts to assist those in need. I want to commend my state Senator Mike McGuire (SB562 co-author) for literally running into a burning house two days ago to collect the important belongings of someone who wasn’t home and for consistently posting reliable updates on social media. There are so many courageous medical personnel, generous business owners, and everyday people giving whatever they have of themselves to ease the suffering of the tens of thousands affected.
I want to encourage all Progressive Democrats in the spirit of giving to please avoid the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other major nonprofits, as the funds that eventually go to those most in need are significantly less than communities who have dealt with them in the past would like. In addition, it takes much longer than direct contributions to community-based efforts. There are local Facebook groups with shelters reporting their needs, and people offering their services and donations. There are supply drop-offs in most towns with volunteers shuttling supplies and other help into the affected areas. There are sanctuary shelters for those fearing for their immigration status in Sonoma County (Elsie Allen and Analy High Schools). There is a growing spread sheet of GoFundMe accounts from victims that’s already over a million dollars. Please reach out to me if you are interested in any of them. There are dozens upon dozens of businesses offering free goods and services to those in need. Social media seems to be the best networking tool on hand.
The CA Attorney General is asking anyone who has been a victim of price gouging during these wildfire crises or who has information of potential price gouging to file a complaint on the attorney general’s website: call 1-800-952-5225 and/or call their police department or sheriff’s office. There are reports of unimaginable price-gouging from some of the more corporate chains of hotels seeking to profit off the pain of the many thousands of evacuees: Graton Casino in Rohnert Park has tripled its normal rates. It’s been widely reported that price gouging has also been observed at Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriot Hotels. I further suggest that instances of price-gouging be reported to local media outlets immediately.
So, it all comes back to these same old stories. The climate crisis is growing dangerously fast. We must reform our outdated management practices of wildlands to include more fuels reductions and prescription burns. The same old mega-corporations are screwing us at every turn. Most humans have love in their hearts to share, especially during a crisis. Grassroots, people-powered efforts (and political campaigns) are always more effective than top-down, outside relief attempts.
Robert is a botany teaching associate at Humboldt State University with degrees in biology and plant ecology and a deep interest in the functioning of natural systems. He is a former Bernie delegate, current CDP Executive Board member, and a founding member of the Humboldt Progressive Democrats.