Disasterous Fires, but Nothing Like Katrina

October 25, 2007

I know I mentioned volunteering to help with the California wildfires, possibly with my friend Cat. I wanted to give you all an update on that. I’ve rolled it over and over in my head and weighed the options, and at this point, I have decided that it would not be a good idea for me to go any closer to the fires than I already am. In lieu of volunteering, I have made monetary donations to organizations who are helping out, specifically Noah’s Wish and the Red Cross.

My decision to not go is for many reasons, but the two that come to the forefront are my compromised pulmonary health because of the high amount of particulates in the air (via smoke) and the fact that there are plenty of capable volunteers, who are officially trained for rescue work, already helping out in San Diego, at least for now.

I will reassess whether or not to volunteer for the fire relief efforts when we return from Thailand and will probably help with the clean-up efforts when a lot of the fires have died down and the smoke has lessened. I know from experience that disaster areas need help with clean-up just as much as when the initial frenzy begins.

On another note, some people are comparing this to post-Katrina New Orleans. I have to strongly disagree with that. I was there, in Louisiana, for a long time after the initial influx of volunteers left and I must say that these fires and what happened post-Hurricane Katrina are vastly different. Sure, they are both horrific natural disasters, but that is where the similarities end. In fact, I would venture to say they are on complete opposite ends of the disaster spectrum.

Firstly, the entire infrastructure of Louisiana and most of the surrounding states was literally wiped out via widespread flooding from the hurricane damage to levees and constant rain. Here in California, although the emergency organizations are being taxed to their limits, the basic city and state infrastructure is still working, and quite well, I might add.

Secondly, with regard to pets, a lot of the people being evacuated here in California and being sent to an emergency center have been allowed to take their pets with them. If they haven’t been allowed to keep their pets with them or did not evacuate with their pets, the pets are being rescued and boarded at facilities already in place to deal with vast number of animals. Nothing like that ever happened post-Katrina. To quote Curtis Ransom of The Humane Society on a statement made on October 24, from this article on CNN:

“It’s a whole different situation from Katrina; people are taking care of the animals,” Ransom said. “The message has gotten out. It’s a horrible disaster, but as far as facilities and willingness to take in animals, I don’t think there’s any hesitation,” he said.”

Thirdly, it is true that many of the wild fire evacuees are being housed in the Qualcomm Center, which is a large sports arena – similar to the Superdome. Yet, people in the Qualcomm Center have food, water, basic hygiene and they are safe. It was not even close to that at the Superdome. As stated in this article on KPBS.org:

“Like Hurricane Katrina refugees two years earlier in New Orleans, thousands of people rousted by natural disaster fled to the NFL stadium here, waiting out the calamity and worrying about their homes.

The similarities ended there, as an almost festive atmosphere reigned at Qualcomm Stadium.

Bands belted out rock ‘n’ roll, lavish buffets served up gourmet entrees and massage therapists helped relieve the stress.

“The people are happy. They have everything here,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared Monday night after his second Qualcomm tour.”

Lastly, from all that I’ve read, and from the 3 organizations I called myself, there are more than enough volunteers at the moment. I was told over and over again that I would be “put on a list” and contacted when or if I was needed. That level of organization regarding volunteers was not found in post-Katrina New Orleans until much later in the rescue operations.

Now, having said that, it still does not diminish the fact that these widespread fires are wrecking havoc on the hundreds of people who have already lost their homes, the dozens of firefighters who have already been injured fighting the fires, the dozens of animals who are scared, lost and injured, not to mention the destruction of the gorgeous California countryside.

I am relieved to know, however, that these horrible fires are being handled by capable first responders, in addition to officially trained volunteers. If the need arises that they need the help of someone like me, I will be contacted, as I am on several “back-up” lists of volunteers.

If you are reading this and want to help, visit these websites to find out more before you go. Many volunteers are being turned away from Qualcomm Center and other organizations. So, it would be wise to call or email first to find out where you would be utilized best:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

karen October 26, 2007 at 11:40 am

Thank you for drawing these distinctions between these disasters. I also live in Southern California and have been observing the wonderful response to people in need during the fires. Thank goodness we did have an infrastructure prepared and a response ready. One additional difference to NOLA is that many (not all, but many) of the people evacuated and in danger here have additional economic means. When I see footage of the homes being evacuated and cars being loaded up I can’t help but think of the minimal resources of our neighbors in the ninth ward. And then, as you mentioned, to face the indignities and fears of their evacuation center. I can’t help but come back to wondering if we are less willing to prepare for and aid our less economically advantaged american neighbors. Sigh.

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lemming October 26, 2007 at 10:11 pm

Good comparison.

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Jeff Hamilton November 6, 2007 at 3:16 pm

There’s a great non-profit group in So. Cal. that’s helped out all over for pets during these disaster situations. I ran across them during a recent event they put on not to long ago. I know they helped out during the fires we had up our way in Tahoe and believe they also pitched in at Katrina. The organization is Surf City Animal Response Team (SCART) and I think they’re out of Huntington Beach, CA. I’m sure they were helping out down there during the fires but they’re another resource to check out. I think their site is http://www.scart.us.

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