Tess Hemmila and Jenna Stephens–Staff Writers
They woke up to someone banging on the door at 2 a.m. “You need to get out – there’s a fire!”
The family rushed outside to see the glow of a wildfire spreading toward their town. Smoke blurred the view – an eerie sight in the darkness of night.
“I remember seeing this halo. Our entire mountain was on fire. Fire – it was everywhere around us,” said Dordt junior Kaylin vanTol.
The fire took place in 2003 near her family’s home in Ramona, California.
After being told to evacuate, the vanTol family decided to wait it out in hopes of protecting their dairy from the flames. With five-gallon buckets of water ready near the hay, they stayed up all night every night of the weeklong fire to keep an eye on the farm. The cows had trimmed the property and left little brush to catch on fire, reducing the threat. Although the fire stayed away from their home and dairy barns, it did reach the far end of their 600-acre property.
Kaylin’s experience is all too relatable for some California residents currently facing deadly wildfires. Tearing through northern California, the fires are eating up the land and structures in their paths before then spitting them back out as black ash. The devastation started the night of Sunday, Oct. 8, around 10 p.m. By Sunday, Oct. 15, one week after the blaze began, at least 40 deaths had been reported and many people were missing. Across the state, over 10,000 firefighters fought multiple wildfires, covering 220,000 acres. Authorities estimate that the flames destroyed over 5,000 structures, including a Hilton hotel and a trailer-park retirement community.
Flames race across the land, encouraged by dry conditions and a lack of humidity. North winds, also known as “diablo” or “devil” winds, add to the challenge for firefighters. October is typically the busiest month for wildfire fighting in California, so this blaze is right on schedule. As if fighting the fire is not enough work on its own, authorities imposed a sunset-to-sunrise curfew in some of the burned areas to prevent looting. The cause of the fire is still being investigated. Downed power lines may have contributed.
Chris Portman, a freshman from Murrieta, California, is the son of a firefighter. His father works for the Escondido Fire Department, but is fighting a fire about two hours north in the Anaheim Hills area. As a captain, he works on containing the fire and handling evacuations.
“The firefighters are getting about five hours of sleep every night,” Portman said. “They’re busy 24/7.”
Other Dordt students said they have friends being dismissed from college classes due to the fires, and some are advised to stay indoors due to very poor air quality.
Firefighters continue to fight the blaze, and many residents remain displaced from their homes. Others have returned to find little more than ash.
“The second I hear there’s a fire, I immediately remember what happened,” vanTol said. “I know the uncertainty and I know how scary it is. I get nervous for them.”