Are Californians really ready for fires?

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By: Apsara Senaratne

On the night of October 17, 2019, along with thousands of Porter Ranch residents, my family and I, were startled into wakefulness by the acrid scent of the thick smoke which had begun to shroud the sky. Just a few hours later, my mother answered the door to find police officers on our porch. We were told to gather our things and to leave immediately, as there was a mandatory evacuation in place due to the proximity of the Saddleridge Fire.

My father wished to leave, but my mother protested, determined to stay and protect the place which we had called home for over ten years. On Friday morning, she sat in our backyard with a garden hose at the ready if the fire dared near our house, braving showers of ash, a watchful eye fixed upon the flames at Aliso Canyon, which was distinctly visible from our home. It was not until one of the cypress trees in my backyard nearly caught fire that we all realized that our lives were truly in jeopardy and ultimately decided to leave our home. 

The devastating Saddleridge Fire in Porter Ranch, Sylmar, and surrounding areas forced approximately 100,000 people from their homes. 

Having  battled through a multitude of earthquakes and brush fires in previous years, and, more recently, the Aliso Canyon gas leak, Porter Ranch residents believed themselves to be better prepared for disasters such as these. However, these fires have struck panic within residents of the Porter Ranch community and beyond, and have led to a series of chaotic and disorganized evacuations, with many families unprepared and unable to gather necessities or to save items most precious to them when leaving.

Currently, the Kincade fire, the largest of twelve active California fires, has forced approximately 180,000 people to evacuate, and California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency, according to the New York Times.

In addition, about 3 million people have been affected by widespread blackouts affected in California by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) for the purpose of preventing more wildfires. This may point to a greater lack of preparedness not just within communities, but also of electric companies, which have neglected to improve systems in a way which would enable blackouts only in affected areas.

While larger organizations responsible for fire prevention do have the responsibility to protect residents from raging wildfires, it is also important that residents themselves be prepared for the worst. In his article, “How to prepare for the next wildfire, as extreme winds sweep across dry California,” the Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Sabalow advises that residents ensure that their cars have enough fuel, pack necessities and beloved items, and sign up for emergency notifications in case of evacuation. In addition, residents should ensure that property is devoid of excess vegetation and consider retrofitting homes built before 2008.

With fires quickly spreading across Los Angeles and evacuations taking place in areas close to Hollywood, which is only about 20 miles away from Granada Hills Charter (GHC), it is important that homeowners take preventative and preparatory measures so that they and their families are fully equipped for evacuation if or when another fire strikes.

Author: Apsara Senaratne

Apsara Senaratne is a junior at Granada Hills Charter High School and Feature Editor of the school newspaper, The Plaid Press. She feels very strongly about the right to free speech, and views journalism as a medium through which she can openly express controversial views, both political and personal.

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