Two of the worst fires in California’s history brought mass destruction last November. The Woolsey Fire burned in Los Angeles and Ventura County and the Camp Fire burned in Paradise.
The Woolsey Fire scorched 96,949 acres across Woolsey Canyon, Thousands Oaks, Westlake, Calabasas, the Santa Monica Mountains, and Malibu, according to CBS News. It spread so quickly due to the strong Santa Ana winds and 1,500 structures were destroyed and 341 were damaged, according to CBS News.
Firefighter and paramedic Scott Christlieb and his son, probationary firefighter Zach Christlieb both worked to combat the fires. Scott Christlieb is from Station 69 which is located in the Palisades and Zach Christlieb is from Station 93 in Tarzana. Their stations were primarily responsible for protecting structures. Scott Christlieb went to Camarillo and Oak Park where he stayed for 36 hours and then moved to Kannan for a few days and then to Bell Canyon where Zach Christlieb had been fighting the fires for five days.
According to the two, the first 36 hours were the most challenging because they did not have any back up yet, so they had to keep fighting the fires continuously without sleeping or eating. After that, they had 24 hour shifts on and then 24 hours off repeatedly, they said. There was also poor communication as the fire spread so fast and over a lot of land and it was difficult to know what was happening in other places, they said.
“The conditions were very extreme, very different, and the fire was moving very fast,” Scott Christlieb said. “It was huge and went for miles long. We were so busy and we did not have time to stop.”
Zach Christlieb said it was difficult knowing that they could not save every structure.
“Sometimes we were able to go inside the house and quickly grab valuable possessions such as photo albums, computers, and important documents,” Zach Christlieb said. “We take what we would want to save if it was our house. It is very personal because we never want to lose a house.”
Families expressed gratitude even when their houses were not able to be saved. One particular family thought they had lost everything when their house burned down until the firefighters showed them what they had saved, Scott Christlieb said.
“One family came up to us the next day after they lost the house and we took them to see where their house was,” Scott Christlieb said. “We showed them what we saved and they were in tears when they saw their family photos.”
In addition to firefighters, thousands of people came together to help in any way they could. People made sure each other were safe, offered their homes to others to stay in, and brought supplies to shelters.
Tragically, three people were killed and three firefighters were injured by the fast-moving flames, according to CBS News. An estimated 250,000 people were evacuated from their homes and some of them tragically did not have homes to return to, according to CBS News. Over 80 percent of the National Park lands in the Santa Monica Mountains were burned, according to KTLA. The fire lasted for 13 days until it was 100 percent contained on Nov. 21.
The fires did not only affect the people and the land, but it also affected pets and wildlife. Many animals were evacuated to safety facilities throughout Los Angeles including local animal shelters, Pierce College and Zuma Beach.
There are many ways you can help. You can make donations to many charitable organizations including the American Red Cross, a nonprofit that opened shelters for evacuees. You can also donate to California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund that has given grants to rebuilding homes and provides medical treatment and financial help. The Salvation Army provides a myriad of services including meals to shelters.
Sending money to a reputable organization such as one of those listed above is another way to help. Also providing clothes, blankets, and toiletries will assist families in need. Additionally, you can donate gift cards for cash, markets, gasoline, and other necessities. Many people opened a room in their home for displaced families to stay in.
There are various steps that you may take to prepare in case of another fire. You can create an evacuation plan with your family, including your pets, and make a list of what to take should you need to immediately evacuate. In addition, you can also keep important documents and pictures in a fire-resistant safe. Creating a list of your emergency contacts may also be helpful in preparing for a fire.
While the fires caused mass devastation and destruction, people remain optimistic and are hopeful that they can rebuild and keep going.