As this edition of the Reporter went to press Oct. 24, the smoke was clearing somewhat over Ventura County. For the most part, the county was spared of the devastating blazes that scorched counties to the south. The Nightsky fire in the Santa Rosa Valley burned a comparatively small 35 acres and was contained by the morning of Oct. 22. The larger Ranch Fire had already burned more than 51,000 acres and destroyed seven buildings by our print deadlines. Good news came that morning when the Ventura County Fire Department announced that all fire-related evacuations in the county had been lifted and the Ranch Fire’s threat to Piru and Fillmore appeared diminished.
Yet, “good news” is a very relative term in this case. As you read this, thousands of people in our state are newly homeless, their entire world drastically altered in minutes. Hundreds of thousands more remained displaced from their homes at the time of this writing, their evacuation the largest in California’s history and on a scale only exceeded by the 2005 evacuation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast during Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Moreover, the Associated Press reported that in San Diego County alone, damages exceeded $1 billion, suggesting that when the last embers are doused the fires’ economic impact will be catastrophic.
In the coming weeks, talk will turn to what was done to stop the fires, what was done (or not done) to prevent them, and what must be done to prevent future blazes from endangering California’s residents. As has already been noted in other venues, wildfires are a necessity of the natural environment in which we have chosen to live. Like hurricanes in the Southeast or extreme cold in the Upper Midwest and Northeast, it is important to recognize the role of our region’s dangers in shaping the landscape around us.
That said, now is not the time to criticize. Now is the time to act to help those whose lives have been affected by this firestorm. Here is a partial list of resources to learn about ways to help fire victims as well as places to get information about the fires.
American Red Cross of Ventura County: Individuals can contact local branches of the Red Cross to find out how they can help victims of the fires throughout the seven affected counties. Here are phone numbers for local branch offices: 987-1514 (Camarillo), 339-2234 (Ventura), 497-7044 (East County), 646-6044 (Ojai), 982-3074, ext. 231 (Naval Base Ventura County). www.arcventura.org
California Fire Volunteers: This state organization set up by the office of the governor has links to volunteer opportunities in San Diego, the Inland Empire and Santa Clarita listed at www.californiavolunteers.org/disaster_prep.asp.
Toll-free business donation hotline: In-kind donations of goods will be accepted from businesses nationwide via a hotline set up by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Donations will be matched to local relief efforts around Southern California. Interested businesses can call 1-800-750-2858 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. pacific time.
San Diego Humane Society and SPCA: With its world famous zoo and wild animal park, San Diego is known for its dedication to the animal world. Beyond the wildlife affected by the smoke and fires, thousands of domestic animals and livestock were evacuated. www.sdhumane.org.