For the second time in little over a year, wildfires are devastating Northern California. And this time, Southern California is burning, too.
Up north, the Camp Fire raging in Butte County is officially the biggest and deadliest wildfire in state history. As of midweek it has scorched more than 135,000 acres and killed 48 people. Hundreds are still missing. Thousands of structures have burned, and the lovely foothill town of Paradise essentially has been wiped off the map.
In Southern California, the Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire have killed two people and burned nearly 100,000 acres of beautiful canyon land in Malibu and Thousand Oaks, right down to the sea. The burn area is the size of Denver. Some quarter-million residents had to evacuate.
As with last year’s Tubbs Fire, which destroyed URJ Camp Newman and whole neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, the fires of November 2018 have not left the Jewish community unscathed. In Southern California, a Jewish day school and three Jewish camps were heavily damaged. We already have reports of at least one Jewish family losing their home in Chico, a few miles from Paradise.
And the fires still rage.
If there was one silver lining after the 2017 North Bay fires, it was the overwhelming response by the community, Jewish and otherwise, to aid those affected by the disaster. Synagogues, Jewish Federations and Jewish Family and Children’s Services mobilized to raise money, provide housing and day care, distribute emergency gift cards for the suddenly homeless, and offer assistance in navigating insurance claims and other challenges.
We have the template. Now it’s time to do the same sort of disaster relief effort for victims of the wildfires up and down the state. The website of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation (jewishfed.org) has a page that lists the many ways to help.
Then there are the longer-term issues to consider. Is this the new normal, where we must battle megafires year after year, alongside the monumental challenges of climate change and drought? This is not the California we know and love.
The crisis serves as a deadly reminder that we can no longer put up with the lunacy of climate change denial for a moment longer. All policy-makers must join this fight or face the consequences.
Meanwhile, our hearts go out to all victims of the fires. We thank our brave firefighters and first responders, and pray for their safety.