Oct 12th, 2017, 01:50 PM

California is Burning

By Sara Moskowitz
Image credit: Shutterstock
AUP students watch their homes be destroyed from 5,500 miles away.

The fire that hit Northern California's wine country is projected to be the state's most destructive to date. With a death toll of at least 23, and hundreds injured and missing, California Fire Chief stated, "This is a serious, critical, catastrophic event." The fires started on the night of Sunday, October 8, and have only been proliferating since, sprawling over 170,000 acres.  

Almost all of Sonoma and Napa Valley is destroyed. Over 20,000 residents were forced to evacuate immediately, but that number is steadily rising. Although it has not yet been determined what caused the fires, 50-70 mph winds and a prolonged five-year drought have contributed to the unprecedented and continued spread of flames. On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence announced that President Donald Trump has allowed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to intervene with equipment and resources through the approval of a major disaster declaration. California fire spokesperson, Heather Williams spoke about the urgency of the situation, "we see 20 to 30 new fires a day, it’s just that these winds really caused these fires to grow rapidly." Over 17 separate wildfires have ravaged the Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties, and most of them are under 10% contained.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Lauren Madrigal, a Napa Valley native who graduated from AUP last spring and is now working in Paris, has been in a constant fright since the fires began, "I haven't really slept in the past two days, with the California and Paris time difference—I've been awake waiting for updates on family and friends. I'm currently at the office of my work, constantly checking the news for any updates, and unfortunately, I have friends that have confirmed that they've lost their homes, businesses, and vineyards." She is receiving pictures and videos from her family and friends, but it's tough to be here and not with loved ones. She adds, "My parents have packed up our cars because everyone around them has evacuated now—they are on voluntary evacuations and just waiting."

Jenna Biersch, a sophomore at AUP who has lived in wine country for her entire life, didn't initially realize the severity of the fires because of their frequency in California. However, on Monday afternoon she began receiving concerned messages from friends asking about the status of her family and home. In just an hour the fire had spread from 200 to 200,000 acres. This news sent her into a state of panic. She was informed that Lovall Valley Loop, just past the Napa County line, was engulfed in flames, which is the place she has called home since the age of 12. 

She immediately phoned her mom, who then assured her that family and animals were okay and that they had taken refuge in San Francisco. At first, she couldn’t reach her two best friends, but when she did, her best friend Juliana, revealed that her grandmother's home had burnt to the ground and that her mother had lost almost all of her vineyards. She then went on to describe her family's once beautiful home as "an apocalypse." A friend of Biersch from Santa Rosa, a part of Sonoma County that got hit particularly bad, said they had lost their entire school and neighborhood. According to Biersch, "Most people had 5-10 minutes to grab what they could and leave. Some of my friends are losing everything or losing their only source of income, which lies in the vineyards or wineries. It is painful to be so far away during a time like this. Right now, I know there is a fire around our home and property, but we don't know the damage because no one is allowed up there."

Image credit: Dean Biersch

Wine country is considered a crown jewel of the United States. Often referred to as having a semblance to Europe, with the myriad of vineyards, wineries, and fine dining—the wildfires will have a drastic impact on Sonoma and Napa Valley's identity. Biersch adds, "I've called Napa and Sonoma Valley my home my entire life. It is unbelievably beautiful, and no one could have imagined this happening. We have a 50 billion dollar wine industry that is being destroyed as well. I don't know if things will ever be the same for anyone." 

Napa Valley before the wildfires. Image credit: Shutterstock

Northern California needs your help! 

Visit the Red Cross website and select "California Wildfires" in the drop-down menu to donate. Or, the California Fire relief "Go Fund Me".