California wildfires rage on, cause families to prepare for evacuation


Sareena Sandhu

Smoke covers the California sky, as the “El Paso” wildfire burns through a forest. Sareena Sandhu, who took this picture, said that she’s gone “fire chasing” to look at the damage of the wildfire. “We could see the fire from across the bay,” Sandhu said. “We could actually see the flames in the distance.”

Gabriella Winans, Reporter

Thousands of families across California are prepared to evacuate their homes, while many have already evacuated, following the severe “El Dorado” wildfire that has burned across the state since Sept. 5. As the wildfire continues to spread, residents like Menlo School senior Sareena Sandhu are left with a lack of fresh air and “apocalyptic” looking skies.

“I live in Menlo Park (Calif.,) and the past couple days here have been so smokey that you can’t even tell what time of day it is outside, whether it be 5 in the morning or 12 noon,” Sandhu, cousin of Prosper sophomore Neena Sidhu, said. “Most days, it’s looked like the sun has disappeared.”

Not only has the smoke covered many areas of California, but ash from the wildfire has as well. Sandhu described the clouds of ash as if it looked like it was “snowing.”

“The other day, there was so much ash in the air that when you drove or even stomped your foot on the ground, huge clouds of ash would swirl up. It looked like it was snowing ash,” Sandhu said. “Ash coats everything outside, especially your cars, and it doesn’t come off easily.”

Ash covers a car in California, as Menlo School senior Sareena Sandhu takes a picture of her own car. The ash has been an effect of the “El Paso” wildfire that began on Sept. 5. “The ash corrodes at the paint on your car, so you have to be constantly washing it to make sure it doesn’t get damaged,” Sandhu said. “It takes more than a quick spray with the hose to get it off, so that’s a little frustrating.” (Sareena Sandhu)

Ash has also affected the air quality across California, leaving many area’s air quality index above 150, which is an air quality level considered to be unhealthy.

“Once the air quality reaches a certain threshold, we have to wear the N95 masks, just because of the particles in the air,” a San Diego suburb resident Schaffer Musser said. “My son plays high school football, and when the air quality is above 150, they can’t practice. They almost didn’t get to practice yesterday because the air quality is just so horrible.”

Looting has become a problem too, as families evacuate their homes.

“My wife’s cousin up north, they did have to evacuate, and when they evacuated, looters came in and looted their house,” Musser said. “They left with the mandatory evacuation and came back to their house in shambles.”

As looting becomes a recurring problem across California, the risk for looting increases with each wildfire evacuation, as the wildfires become more frequent. Michelle Johnson, who lives in Moorpark, California, said that her family and community have been affected by multiple fires over the past years.

“We are always on high alert when fire season is in effect,” Johnson said. “We have had three to five major fires, I think, over the past several years.”

Traveling has also been limited in the state of California as well, due to the wildfire.

“Our state is surrounded by fires, causing roadblocks everywhere. We were in Cambria (Calif.) this past weekend, and the trip was unsuccessful due to a fire near the area,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t see the coast until we were near the water. All there was was smoke and smog layers.”

Weather has also been affected by the wildfire, as Sandhu described it as “insane storms” one day, and “yellow skies” the next.

The skies in California remain shades of orange due to the wildfire that is spreading across the state. Sareena Sandhu took this photo, describing the skies as “apocalyptic” looking. “Everywhere you looked was just this yellow and orange color, and it truly looked apocalyptic,” Sandhu said. “It especially looked apocalyptic with everything else going on in the world right now.” (Sareena Sandhu)

“It had been super hot in the week leading up to the storm, and none of us were expecting it,” Sandhu said. “I woke up at like 4:30 a.m. and saw huge flashes of lightning coming through my curtains. The lightning looked unreal.”

Temperature due to the “contrasting” weather has been affected, as well.

“It (the weather) was forecasted to be in the mid-80s, but instead we just barely reached the 70s,” Sandhu said. “It was way colder than it was supposed to be, and we chalked that up to the smoke affecting the atmosphere. On the yellow days, the smoke is way higher than it normally is.”

A storm is seen in California, as a part of the “contrasting” weather as Sareena Sandhu, who took this picture of a lightning strike, called it. “It was just pouring rain,” Sandhu said. “It was the biggest storm I have ever seen in my life.” (Sareena Sandhu)

Prosper residents can also attest to the California wildfires, including senior Mark Chrissan, a former California resident.

“When we had one (a wildfire) only a few miles away from us, we packed up and prepared to evacuate because we didn’t know what would happen,” Chrissan said. “I never ended up having to evacuate my house, but when I was in school the school got evacuated, and was shut down and used as a shelter for those who did have to evacuate.”

Current California residents are seeing these evacuations today, as many prepare to do it themselves, along with helping others with preparations.

“I had to help my friend move a bunch of vehicles from his house in case the fire got any closer. The closest one we’ve ever had to our house was only about a mile away,” Musser said. “We were moving cars until 12 at night.”

False alerts for mandatory evacuations have been accidentally issued as well, causing “panic” in people such as Sandhu, who was at a family member’s house when she was forced to fully prepare for a false evacuation in 15 minutes.

Smoke rises up throughout the state of California as the wildfire continues to spread. Schaffer Musser, who took this picture of the smoke, said that this isn’t the first time he’s seen the effects of a wildfire. “Once to twice a year I’d say we get affected by wildfires,” Musser said. “The closest one we’ve ever had to our house was only about a mile away, but they (the firefighters) got that one out pretty quick.” (Schaffer Musser)

“Even after we started rushing around to get stuff, we kept pausing and looking at each other in a sort of daze. We were seriously shocked,” Sandhu said. “I had started checking Google and news feeds to see if there were any updates, but we couldn’t find anything, even though the notification for the evacuation had said the fire was only 2 miles away. Finally, I found a tweet by the Santa Cruz Fire Department, which said that they had accidentally sent out an evacuation warning, and then I sort of relaxed.”

Though the California wildfire has caused much stress to those under the pressure of evacuating and those preparing for a mandatory evacuation, residents still remain prepared to leave their homes.

“Everyone started thinking about what they should have packed and what to do better next time, so it ended up being a really good exercise,” Sandhu said. “You never really expect the crazy things (like a wildfire) to affect you so closely until they actually do.”