California fires ravage homes, destroy lives

By Anna DeSmet

On Oct. 9, I woke up early to find a stream of messages and one missed call. The messages were all variations of: “Are you okay?” “Is your family safe?” “Is your house still standing?”

And that’s how I found out a series of wildfires threatened to burn down my hometown of Sonoma, California.

Since then, six fires have burned in the hills and towns surrounding my town. There are a total of 20 fires statewide. Glen Ellen, a town so close and small it feels like an extension of ours, was hit. As was Santa Rosa, one of the nearby cities to which Sonoma residents drive for shopping or entertainment. Multiple nights this week, I’ve gone to bed thinking about possible strong winds that could push the literal wall of fire over the hills and into our valley.

I know humans are meant to adapt, but still I am unnerved about how quickly I changed from a bundle of nerves and stress, worried sick about my hometown, loved ones and neighbors, to a functioning, mostly emotionally stable person. It may  not be exactly healthy, but hey, at least I can function well enough to show up to my midterms this week.

And yet, I am one of the incredibly fortunate ones in this tragedy. Though the fires are still active, my house is still standing, my family is safe, fires haven’t entered Sonoma proper and none of my close friends lost their homes. So I say again: I am one of the lucky ones.

Many of our peers are affected by these fires too, and some of them in much worse ways than I have. Keep them in your hearts, please.

Ninety-five percent of California fires are started by humans in some form or another, according to Ken Pimlott, the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It could be a forgotten campfire, or a discarded cigarette butt or, the worst of the possibilities, someone playing  with fire. There’s also a theory floating around that substantial winds brought down some telephone poles that then sparked the disaster.

I hope for the sake of my state that these fires were not caused by human stupidity. Washington Post reports an estimated 5,700 structures destroyed, at least 40 dead, hundreds missing and thousands evacuated. All of those numbers are certain to go up. Most of those deaths have been elderly people who were burned alive in the homes they couldn’t leave because they were too frail. One victim was only 14 years old. There is so, so much heartbreak caused by these fires.

A hometown friend recently told me, “If someone started these fires they should be given  the death penalty, and I don’t even support that s**t.”

If people did indeed start these fires, and if I were the only decider of the law, I would put all of the firestarters on trial for manslaughter and destruction of property. There have been people have been put on trial for much less. That being said, I know they will suffer regardless of if they’re caught or not. They will have to continue with their lives knowing that their actions killed dozens of people and ruined the lives of hundreds, possibly thousands. If they have any of the compassion humans are meant to have, perhaps this is punishment enough. I hope it is.

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