‘Worst-case scenario’: California wildfires devastate UC Berkeley students’ communities

John Troxell/Courtesy

UC Berkeley senior Lucy Whitmore planned to visit her hometown of Paradise, California to spend Thanksgiving with her family, but the house she intended to return to no longer exists.

The Camp Fire ravaged the city, burning Whitmore’s parents’ and grandmother’s homes, along with thousands of other people’s homes.

“This is the very worst-case scenario that nobody thought would actually happen,” Whitmore said.

According to a press release from the office of Gov. Jerry Brown, the Camp Fire in Northern California is the most destructive wildfire in California’s history. Since it began Thursday, the fire has ravaged more than 100,000 acres of land and killed at least 42 people, with hundreds missing as of press time.

Whitmore first received a call from her father at 8:00 a.m. Thursday, after the fire erupted. When Whitmore called back half an hour later, she was told the whole town was on fire, and it was likely her house was going to burn down.

Whitmore said a family friend who works for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company confirmed that both her house and her grandmother’s house burned down. Her basement, however, seems to still be intact.

Whitmore said friends from high school are opening their doors, and businesses in nearby Chico have been helping out in any way they can.

LUCY WHITEMORE/ COURTESY

LUCY WHITEMORE/COURTESY

“The community outpouring is really great. Everyone knows someone who was affected by it,” Whitmore said. “I think it has been a really cool community outpouring.”

Miles away in Southern California, the Woolsey and Hill fires have burned through parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, including the city of Thousand Oaks — the site of a recent mass shooting that killed 13 people at a bar.

Campus sophomore Jordan Jomsky, who is from Thousand Oaks, was still coping with the shooting that occurred Nov. 7 when he learned that his family needed to evacuate because of the Hill Fire that broke out the next day.

“I was looking at the list of people from (the local bar) because I knew people there, and I was texting everyone,” Jomsky said. “Then I started texting everyone about the fire.”

While Jomsky’s own home did not burn down, he said he knows numerous people, including friends and a former college counselor, whose homes were destroyed by the Hill Fire. 

reaction_john-troxell_courtesy2


JOHN TROXELL/COURTESY

According to Brown’s press release, the Woolsey and Hill fires have burned through 96,100 acres of land in Ventura County and parts of Los Angeles. Jomsky was in Los Angeles when the fires broke out, but he was unable to go home and see his family because of a freeway closure.

Jomsky said he has noticed companies posting “Thousand Oaks Strong” on their Facebook pages and has seen a number of GoFundMe pages raising money for people who lost their homes.

“I’m just so thankful,” Jomsky said. “The city is so small, and it’s such a close place, and I’m just so thankful that everyone has come together.”

Jomsky added that he found campus professors to be accommodating to his needs, mentioning how his computer science professor gave him an extension on a project and homework assignment.

Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell sent an email to all students living in Butte County and areas affected in Southern California informing them of various resources available to them, including financial, mental health and legal services.

Whitmore said that after Paradise experienced fires in 2008, many people were unable to get insurance.

“There’s a lot of people who can still use help in some way,” Whitmore said. “If anyone wants to help, there’s a lot of good resources out there.”

Contact Ronit Sholkoff at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RonitSholkoff.