Fire crews work among destroyed homes at the Rancho Monserate Country Club community Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Fallbrook, Calif. The wind-swept blazes have forced tens of thousands of evacuations and destroyed dozens of homes in Southern California. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Preparing for unfriendly fires

Southern California was recently hit by a tirade of fires. No human deaths have resulted from the Lilac Fire, but 4,100 acres of land near Camp Pendleton and 46 horses perished. One San Diegan firefighter lost his life to the Thomas Fire in Ventura. While PUSD and surrounding areas were fortunate enough not to have been evacuated, our northern-dwelling Sundevils and their families were affected in other ways.

Senior Racine Helpling resides in San Elijo Hills, near San Marcos and the fires. She was not physically impacted by the Lilac Fire, but her memories of the 2014 San Diego Wildfires resurfaced.

“It brings back memories of the fires a few years ago where I was affected,” Helpling said. “I did have to evacuate with my family, and we had to leave our cats behind. It’s still scary. There’s that looming possibility that something

A DC-10 releases fire retardant over Murrieta |
Photo courtesy of Daily News

could go much worse than it did last time.”

Similarly, freshman Kiahna  Sales recalls a fire that was visible from her Fallbrook home last year. The risk of wildfires in Southern California runs high enough that it is not uncommon for any northern San Diego resident to have  had a close call. Education on the subject would benefit everyone.

“It would be helpful if we could have at least a half hour talking about what to do and what to get and how to be emotionally prepared,” Sales said.

Based on their experience last year, Sales’ family was ready to follow appropriate procedures if the fire did reach their house.

“If it had jumped the freeway, it would have been right next to my neighborhood,” Sales said. “[My family] was making calls to family friends to see if we could stay at their house just in case we had to evacuate.”

Cooperation with others was also essential for Helpling, who says that after having to evacuate a few years ago, she is much closer to her neighbors.

“We all have plans in place of where to go and how we can help each other out,” Helpling said. “They all have young kids, so together we all prepared backpacks to get out if we needed to.”

The Lilac Fire in Fallbrook | Photo courtesy of
American Press

Fellow senior and San Marcos inhabitant, Alissa Penaranda, gained a heightened knowledge of what exactly to pack after being evacuated from the same fire that Helpling was evacuated from.

“We had a

bag of clothes that we could take with us for two nights just in case and packed any necessities, like extra money and anything that was considered valuable,” Penaranda said.

She also believes in-school discussions about fire prevention and evacuation procedures are necessary to increase awareness of the imminent threat that fires pose to all Californians.

“Since bush fires can happen often in Southern California, schools should prepare students by teaching us what we should bring [during an evacuation] and how to take precautions to prevent a fire,” Penaranda said. “If you go to your house and suddenly a cop shows up at your door and tells you you have to evacuate in two hours, what’s the first thing that comes to mind that you have to bring? [If we are taught this], it’ll create more of an understanding of the situation and will prevent [undergoing] so much of a panic.”

Keeping nerves in check certainly can be difficult in the face of a rapidly spreading wildfire. Nobody knows that better than the firefighting son-in-law of Ellen Wood, MC’s health technician. The fires have impacted not only him, but  his entire family.

“His son had to be without his dad on his birthday because he was fighting the fire on Friday,” Diane Wood, Ms. Wood’s daughter-in-law,  said.

Despite this, Mrs. Woods does not appear overly concerned for her son-in-law or his family’s overall well-being.

“Does it affect his family? Of course. They’re always concerned about him,” Ms. Wood said. “He was already a firefighter when [my daughter] married him. She knew that was his job.”

The 2014 San Diego Wildfires | Photo courtesy of
La Jolla Bluebook

She is certain that he is fulfilling what has been his dream for many years: to serve others. In high school, he was active in a program similar to MC’s fire program and has followed through with his interest.

“It’s just his personality. He’s a helpful person, and that’s what he’s always wanted to do,” Wood said. “He was in fact an explorer, very much like our program here, so he’s always wanted to be a firefighter.”

While a firefighter’s profession may prevent him from spending certain moments with his family, there are risks that everyone take by settling down in California.

“It would be nice living somewhere else, but at the same time, what can you do?” Penaranda said. “You can’t really predict when a fire is going to happen, especially near your house.”

Helpling is another San Diegan with no intentions of up-and-leaving because of a fire threat, particularly because help is nearby whenever she may need it.

“I am very fortunate that [my family is] a minute away from a fire station,” Helpling said. “I love the area where I live. The thought never crossed my mind that I would live anywhere else. It’s just a reality of my life.”

We may not all live down the road from a professional firefighter, but we can all take steps to ensure we know where to head in case of an emergency. Wood recommends for detailed packing lists, expert advice on remaining safe and level-headed, and instructions on taking proper pre- and post-fire measures, including when to call 9-1-1 and locating evacuation centers beforehand. Natural disasters can in fact be disastrous, but we can strengthen relationships within neighborhoods and educate ourselves on wildfires to better brace ourselves for when the inevitable strikes.

Written by Evelyne Eng

Evelyne Eng is a senior at Mt. Carmel High School.

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