As the Northern California fires destroy neighborhoods and force evacuations, some Cal Poly students are among those affected.
CalFire says it responded to 250 new wildfires between Oct. 8 and 20 which burned over 245,000 acres, forced the evacuations of 100,000 residents and took the lives of 42 people.
Wine and viticulture senior Patricia Williams said the three houses on her grandfather’s winery burned down in Napa, the homes of her grandparents and two cousins. Her grandfather built the houses on the property over the past forty years, and grew the winery from nothing.
Williams’ entire family lived on the property at one point, and the winery was an inspiration for her to enter the wine industry. She planned on working for her grandfather.
“It’s heartbreaking. I really don’t know what else to say,” Williams said.
No one in her family was harmed, which she said is truly important, and her grandfather is waiting to talk to their insurance agency before he knows if they can rebuild. A large number of the 30-year-old vines may need to be replaced, she predicted, but the family does not know because only the property manager has seen the damage.
The effects of the fire on students were not limited to property damage.
Environmental earth and soil sciences freshman Wren McCullough couldn’t contact her mother for a while during the fire because cell phone service was knocked out in her area of Santa Rosa. She said her mother decided to stay at her house because she didn’t expect to find a shelter that would take her pets. The fire came within two blocks of her house. While her mother was planning to evacuate, McCullough had to decide what items she wanted to save. She said it took her an hour to decide on taking her graduation cap, her yearbook and some family photos.
“If you think about it, genuinely, what you would save in the fire?” McCullough asked. “What out of every single one of your things is irreplaceable?”
McCullough called her mother every two hours after the cell lines came back on, and bought respirator masks from Home Depot to send home because the air quality is bad, and they ran out in Santa Rosa.
Cal Poly parent Traci Holmes Libby has been coordinating relief efforts for students in the Cal Poly SLO Mustang Parents Facebook page. She said she knows of 20 students whose families are evacuated and six who have lost their homes. She predicted that each family will receive $5,000 in cash and cards from donations, and mentioned one architectural firm which offered its services for free for those who lost their houses.
Meathead Movers collected two full trucks of various supplies, the Napa Future Farmers of America rescued rescued over 200 farm animals, and Oct. 13 the Napa Community Foundation announced it has raised $1.2 million dollars for their community disaster relief fund, and distributed $565,000 in immediate grants.
Williams asked that people contribute to relief efforts and travel to Napa Valley to rebuild local businesses.