Wind Complex Fire evacuees in search of answers

Loma Rica resident Rhonda Wilke describes learning about the Cascade Fire the old fashioned way-- by a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

Disasters are an anxious business.

From the moment disaster looms, be it fire, flood or anything else, ordinary life dissolves into one agonizing dilemma after another.

Will an evacuation be called? If so, will we go or stay? What should we take? What can we bear to leave behind? Will a shelter take our pets? Will we make it out in time? Will our home be looted while the neighborhood is deserted? Will our home survive? When can we go back?

Evacuees grapple with these questions and more, counting on good information to guide their decisions.

But even in the digital age, with access to real-time information at an all-time high, lags and disconnects occur – and the chaos of a disaster only exacerbates them.

At a community meeting Tuesday at the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds, where many were waiting out the Cascade and LaPorte fires, most questions asked of officials concerned access to information.

One woman complained of a lapse in the most basic information, the evacuation call. Her street had been skipped in the early morning door-to-door notification, and she asked that the omission be addressed for future reference.

A man asked how to stay updated without a smart phone or access to a computer. Yuba County Administrator responded with a county call center number and a Cal Fire information line (see above).

Other questions concerned re-entry to care for animals left behind. A group of Yuba County Sheriff’s Department volunteers have been tasked with bringing animals out, and residents with animals should contact the county for assistance.

Prefacing her question with appreciation for the hard work and bravery of the fire fighters and other first responders, Rhonda Wilke, asked for better information about the fires.

“Why is there not more information put out there on how intense these fires, what direction they’re traveling, more information on the fires themselves,” she asked.

“Would you rather us put information out or put the fire out,” responded one of the officials fielding questions at the meeting.

Of course, many want both.

But amid the chaos of fighting wildfire, answers are in shorter supply than bottled water and gasoline and anxieties run high.

“They only want to know, when can I go home and what are you going do about fixing my place,” said a man who only identified himself as Manuel. “What else would they want? They want to go home, they’re displaced big time, and they’re losing their life. A lot of people in here that’s all they have is what’s on that little cot in there I mean that’s it. You and a lot of other people probably haven’t a clue what that’s like. I don’t want to know what it’s like. They have nothing.”

Down the road at Spring Valley Produce, Doug Hamilton was equally perplexed.

He’d heard both local schools had burned down, among other ‘wild rumors’ but he didn’t know what to believe. Although he was not in the evacuation zone, Hamilton has keen interest in the Loma Rica community, with friends, family and customers living there.

In the summertime, travelers passing through keep him busy, but in winter, local residents are his bread and butter. Without them, “It’s going to cost me dearly this winter.”

“Well, that’s part of life,” he said. “But I just want to know what’s happening.”

Some key information sources for Wind Complex Fires in the Yuba County area:

  • www.bepreparedyuba.org
  • Yuba County call center: 530-749-7700
  • Cal Fire Wind Complex Fires information: 530-823-4083
  • Yuba also disseminates information on Facebook and Twitter
  • If none of the above answer your questions, police and fire scanners can provide real time fire-fighting information police and fire scanners – but if you don’t want to go to the trouble of buying a scanner, there’s an app for that! Apps are available through iTunes and Google Play.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris’s office will assist with replacing lost passports, immigration documents, and driver licenses as well as change of address for Social Security or veterans’ benefits. A Local assistance workshop will be held at an undetermined date.

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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