After the destructive fire in Paradise Valley, Jeanette Krzyzek was the only one of her family left with a standing house. Born and raised in Paradise, Mrs. Krzyzek knew almost everyone in town. She had moved out of the town to Chico before the fires started, but her family hadn’t. As a result, her family alone lost a total of 10 homes to the flames.
The fire that destroyed Mrs. Krzyzek’s hometown was named the “Camp Fire,” and it is one of the most destructive fires in California history. The fire started on Nov. 8, at 6:29 in the morning, according to the Camp Fire Incident Update made on Nov. 25. The fire started at Pulga and Camp Creek Road and continued to spread rapidly through Butte County.
Brian Kahn, an author, journalist and public radio host, wrote in his article, “At least 2,000 structures have been destroyed.” This means that the Camp Fire is “California’s fourth-most destructive fire in state history.” According to Mr. Kahn’s article, “The entire town was basically wiped out.”
An article from USA Today stated that “30,000 people were forced to evacuate” from their homes. By Nov. 10, the fire had burned through 15,000 acres of land, and 75,000 homes were under an evacuation order. The article also stated that there were multiple red flag warnings of the dangers of the fire, as well as hazardous smoke in various areas of California.
A burnt car rests amid rubble from Krzyzek’s hometown, Paradise. PHOTO CREDIT: Jeanette Krzyzek
Even though her hometown was consumed by the wildfires, Mrs. Krzyzek sees this as an opportunity for people to come together in the face of disaster. “Sometimes you see the best of people during a tragedy,” she said. Members of the community have come forward with donations and gifts for those affected, and even though it’s “hard to accept them,” Mrs. Krzyzek knows that “at the same time it’s a blessing.”
Many people have been working hard to help the people affected by the wildfires across the state. Thomas Bowen, an officer assigned to the San Jose Area Office and a parent of a Summit Tahoma student, is one of those people. He said people wanted to be of assistance, but few knew how. Mr. Bowen recommends that people “realize that somebody needs to be the one to make things happen,” for a start.
Once he explained what needed to be done, Mr. Bowen said the amount of support provided by others was “overwhelming.” He explained, “You’ll find that once you let people know how to help, they’ll start lining up and providing more help than you thought possible.” With everyone’s cooperation and support, people can provide aid to those in need.
Mr. Bowen and his family reached out to their daughter’s middle school, whose parents began bringing in money, gift cards, clothes, toiletries, packaged food and other necessary items. They also contributed to a Go Fund Me page that his friends and coworkers started. The page raised over $50,000 for the wildfire relief efforts.
Mr. Bowen also reached out to other people and encouraged them to do what they could. Many people have come together and reached out with donations. Mr. Bowen believes his and everyone else’s efforts helped many of the wildfire victims.
However, the wildfires have also forced people apart. Even though “everyone seems to be a lot closer,” at the same time “no one has a home up there – everyone is being dispersed,” Mrs. Krzyzek said. “There are days I’m still in shock” she adds, in regard to the loss of her hometown. The fire was a disaster that people are still recovering from.
Everyone at Tahoma in San Jose was affected by the smoke. Various students expressed concern for people with asthma and heart complications. The school was even canceled for a day because of the poor air quality, but the students know those closest to the fire had it worse.
“Trends of fires are getting heavier and heavier,” Tahoma science teacher Morris Shieh said. Far away from where the wildfires took place, the school and students were only affected by smoke. Mr. Shieh said that he felt “annoyed by the fire;” however, he also stated that because the school was far away from the actual fire and only experienced difficulties with the smoke, they had the “luxury” of being annoyed. Meanwhile, people living at the source had to deal with major devastations, such as losing their home to the fire.
Krzyzek’s childhood home in Paradise burned down during the fires. PHOTO CREDIT: Jeanette Krzyzek
According to a CNN report by Bill Weir, the Camp Fire is said to be the deadliest fire in California. “More than 40,000 people reside in the Camp Fire’s path … 85 dead and three missing,” Mr. Weir reported. People who lost their homes to the fire were said to be forced to take shelter, having to deal with the effects of the burning, such as the dangerously thick smoke.
“Fellow human beings have been traumatized and killed,” Tahoma English teacher Michael Haley said. He described how people need to start measuring up and learn to prevent recurrences. Mr. Haley added, “We must do a better job of preserving life in all situations.” He explained how he empathized with those who provided aid to the victims such as students donating money or canned food.
At Tahoma, the majority of students are uninformed about details regarding the wildfires. Some students want to help, but they do not know how. They know that people lost their homes, and that many are struggling financially, but few actually understand the severity of the damage.
Nonetheless, the students express empathy for victims of the fires. “It’s extremely hard for people right now,” Lilith Flowers, a sophomore at Tahoma, said. Though most students don’t know all the details regarding the fire, many think it will leave a long-lasting effect on the community.
During these hard times people are trying to find new homes, recover jobs, and support those most harmed by the flames, but some people remain hopeful. “I think there will be beauty from the ashes,” Mrs. Krzyzek said. “But it will take some time.”