‘FIRES ARE A CON­STANT WORRY’

As Cal­i­fo­nia bat­tles rag­ing wild­fires in the af­ter­math of a mass shoot­ing , Ir­ish peo­ple liv­ing there de­scribe their ex­pe­ri­ences

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS | REVIEW - Ciara Kenny

Wild­fires have ripped through Cal­i­for­nia over the past 10 days, killing dozens of peo­ple and de­stroy­ing thou­sands of homes. Ir­ish peo­ple liv­ing around the state have been shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences with Ir­ish Times Abroad.

James Claf­fey, Carpin­te­ria: ‘We al­most lost our home in the mud­slides’

Last De­cem­ber my fam­ily was evac­u­ated from the rag­ing Thomas Fire. We al­most lost our home in the mud­slides that de­stroyed dozens of homes in nearby Mon­tecito, and caused the deaths of 22 peo­ple in­clud­ing 17-year-old Jack Cantin, a stu­dent from Santa Bar­bara High School where I teach.

We are cur­rently un­der evac­u­a­tion warn­ing again as the im­pend­ing win­ter rain threat­ens more mud­slides. The nearby wild­fires in Ven­tura County and Mal­ibu are turn­ing what was once a dis­tinct fire sea­son into an all-year-long night­mare. Add to the fires the mass shoot­ing in close by Thou­sand Oaks last week and the close-knit­ted lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties meld to­gether in a shared grief.

The sense­less mur­ders that took place at the Border­line Bar & Grill struck es­pe­cially close to home, be­cause one of my daugh­ter Maisie’s class­mates lost her half-brother in the shoot­ings.

Bren­dan Crow­ley, San Diego: ‘Fires are a con­stant worry’

I’ve lived here with my fam­ily for five years and we’ve never had to evac­u­ate, but we have our es­cape plan ready should the need arise.

Fires are a con­stant worry. I live within the city lim­its but at the north­ern edge close to a lot of open lands that is per­fect for th­ese kinds of fires to prop­a­gate; think of a sub­urb like Rath­farn­ham where the city meets the coun­try­side. The land­scape is shrubs and brush, with large oak trees in­ter­spersed. There is a lot of very dry veg­e­ta­tion that is eas­ily car­ried on the wind as burn­ing em­bers. This is how it en­ters the built en­vi­ron­ment and when it does it will go from house to house. Houses are mainly tim- ber-framed. About 10 years ago the neigh­bour­hood next to ours lost a lot of houses.

Nor­mally we wouldn’t be too wor­ried about fires in Novem­ber, as we would have al­ready re­ceived enough rain to dampen down ev­ery­thing. But re­cent years have been ex­cep­tion­ally dry and the fire sea­son is much ex­tended. Con­di­tions to­day are per­fect for fires. The wind is very strong and hu­mid­ity is low. Th­ese Santa Ana winds are a reg­u­lar weather phe­nom­e­non here. It’s a hot dry wind from the east that orig­i­nates in the desert and blows out to the coast.

Peo­ple are very wor­ried, and very an­gry; at the thought that some may have been started de­lib­er­ately and at the ignorance of [ US pres­i­dent Don­ald] Trump tweet­ing about for­est man­age­ment be­ing to blame. This has noth­ing to do with log­ging. The prob­lem is the cli­mate and the in­creased fre­quency and du­ra­tion of dry spells.

Orla Don­lyn, San Ma­teo County: ‘We are feel­ing grate­ful to be safe’

We are in no dan­ger here but the air qual­ity is a big prob­lem. It’s been at an “un­healthy” level for days and we have been ad­vised to stay in­doors. You can eas­ily see and smell the pol­luted air all around us. Many par­ents are keep­ing their kids at home and malls are busy with peo­ple try­ing to find in­door ac­tiv­i­ties with air con­di­tion­ing.

The air qual­ity is im­pact­ing my fam­ily with mi­graines, itchy eyes and cough­ing. But the com­mu­nity here is not com­plain­ing, they are feel­ing grate­ful to be safe and are look­ing for ways to help those who lost their homes. Some peo­ple are phon­ing ho­tels and anony­mously pay­ing for a night’s stay for any­one that needs it, oth­ers are of­fer­ing their homes.

I just be­came an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen but hon­estly, th­ese fires on top of the gun vi­o­lence, earth­quake threats and Trump in gen­eral make me long for the cold win­ter days back home.

John O’Sullivan, Oak­land, San Fran­cisco: ‘We’re at the mercy of na­ture’

I live about 150 miles [ 240km] from the Camp Fire. We are def­i­nitely af­fected by the smoke, which de­scended on the city last Thurs­day and is still pretty thick. Our lo­cal school is keep­ing the kids in­doors all day and we’ve all taken the time to bet­ter un­der­stand what our evac­u­a­tion plan would be in the event that we had a ma­jor fire nearby.

Peo­ple in this part of the world are gen­er­ally con­fi­dent about us­ing tech­nol­ogy to fix prob­lems but, de­spite all the brain power and tech­nol­ogy here, we’re at the mercy of na­ture. Ran­dom things like the di­rec­tion of the wind on a given day means we are shrouded in smoke.

The San Fran­cisco area has enor­mous eco­nomic in­equal­ity – every­where you look there are bil­lion­aires and home­less peo­ple – but the smoke has a great equal­is­ing ef­fect. It’s a timely re­minder that we are all vul­ner­a­ble liv­ing crea­tures de­pen­dent on a safe en­vi­ron­ment to sur­vive.

Rob­bie Hayes, Napa: ‘The im­pact on our hospice pa­tients was enor­mous’

I work for Col­labria Care, a hospice ser­vice with an­cil­lary ser­vices here in the Napa Val- ley. Last year, we were sur­rounded by wild­fires very sud­denly, caus­ing a great deal of worry and trauma. This year, the fires are 150 miles away but the air qual­ity is ter­ri­ble and there is ash cov­er­ing my car th­ese morn­ings; a grim re­minder.

It’s hard to de­scribe the speed with which th­ese fires move. One minute you’re sniff­ing some­thing burn­ing, as if it might be some­thing you left in the toaster. The next thing you know, a neigh­bour is yelling to get out fast. Those who hes­i­tate have too of­ten suf­fered dire con­se­quences.

The im­pact on our hospice pa­tients last year was enor­mous, as it has been for the lo­cal hospice close to the Camp Fire this year. Of­ten, fam­i­lies or care­givers have to drag them from their beds to get to a safer lo­ca­tion. For those with de­men­tia or Alzheimer’s it can be par­tic­u­larly dis­tress­ful.

With com­mu­ni­ca­tions down, it was dif­fi­cult but es­sen­tial to lo­cate our pa­tients’ new where­abouts, as they may not have any med­i­ca­tion, oxy­gen, or other nec­es­sary med­i­cal sup­plies. Some­times they have been moved out of area to avoid the chok­ing air – es­pe­cially if they have asthma – and are stay­ing with fam­ily in an­other state. It took us 72 hours to lo­cate all of our pa­tients last year– an un­nerv­ing amount of time when you are car­ing for peo­ple at the end of their days.

Some pa­tients we lo­cated last year had in­curred ad­di­tional med­i­cal prob­lems – a fall lead­ing to a hip frac­ture; a bro­ken arm while be­ing loaded into a ve­hi­cle.

Then there was the oxy­gen prob­lem. Our oxy­gen sup­plier re­fused to de­liver as they per­ceived it to be too dan­ger­ous, even though the au­thor­i­ties had okayed tran­sit into the val­ley. That proved to be an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult prob­lem to solve, but be­tween staff and vol­un­teers fer­ry­ing oxy­gen tanks, we were able to avoid run­ning out.

Bren­dan Con­nel­lan, San Fran­cisco: ‘Ap­pre­ci­ate that rain in Ire­land’

The Golden Gate bridge of­ten dis­ap­pears in the fog that rolls in off the Pa­cific Ocean. It’s one of the charms of the city. What’s go­ing on now though, that’s dif­fer­ent. Once again, I can’t see the bridge but it’s a grey, thick­ish, soupy mix that makes you think of zom­bie films and cover your mouth. Walk out­side for too long and your chest be­gins to hurt. More and more peo­ple are walk­ing about with masks over their mouths.

What wor­ries me most of all is that this doesn’t feel like a once-off, rare event. Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber have started to lodge in my mind as the dan­ger months. In the­ory, we should be get­ting some rain now and that would help but there’s no sign of any com­ing soon. Ap­pre­ci­ate that rain in Ire­land. We need some of it.

Peo­ple are very wor­ried, and very an­gry at the thought that some may have been started de­lib­er­ately and at the ignorance of Trump

James Claf­fey, his wife Mau­reen and their daugh­ter Maisie, with a sign they made to thank the fire­men who bat­tled wild­fires near their home in Carpin­te­ria, Cal­i­for­nia: “One of Maisie’s class­mates lost her half-brother in the shoot­ings.”

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