Saturday, February 22

Northern California wildfires affect students’ hometowns and families

Fires burned through Northern California on Monday morning, killing at least 10 people, destroying at least 1,500 homes and forcing over 20,000 people to evacuate from their homes. (Courtesy of James Gregoretti)

Isabella Gregoretti woke up Monday to text messages from her family and friends updating her about the fires that swept through Northern California early in the morning.

“It’s scary being so far away and not being able to do anything to help the people you love,” said Gregoretti, a fourth-year psychology student. “No one from my family has lost anything yet … and they didn’t have to evacuate, but they are packed just to prepare.”

Gregoretti said her family lives in Rohnert Park, near Santa Rosa, one of the areas affected by the fires.

More than a dozen fires spread through nine counties in Northern California on Monday morning, according to a release from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Several fires broke out Sunday night in Napa Valley and spread quickly because of dry conditions. The fires killed at least 10 people, destroyed at least 1,500 homes and has forced over 20,000 people to evacuate from their homes, state officials said.

The fires burned more than 73,000 acres and have affected counties including Napa, Sonoma, Butte and Shasta, according to the release.

Although the department is waiting for full accounts from damage assessment teams, it estimates the fires damaged about 1,500 homes and commercial structures.

Governor Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties Monday morning in response to the multiple fires. The order instructed state government agencies to coordinate with the Office of Emergency Services and instructed the California National Guard to support emergency disaster and response efforts.

Several UCLA students have family and friends in the area affected by the fires.

Gregoretti said she was shocked to hear about the fires and hopes it does not worsen. She added the fires damaged a concert hall she visited as a child.

“I’ve grown up in that general area, and there was the Luther Burbank Center where I attended my first concert,” she said. “But I heard it was damaged by the fire, so it’s very sentimental to me.”

Jeong Hyun Ji, a second-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student who grew up in Petaluma in Sonoma County, said his family and friends living in Santa Rosa have been evacuating from the fires.

“My cousin goes to a community college in Santa Rosa and that has been closed for an undisclosed amount of time,” he said.

Gregoretti said her family is worried about inhaling dust and fibers from the fires.

“Houses in my area are mainly concerned about keeping windows closed, to wet your house so that it doesn’t catch on fire if an ember does fall,” she said. “But basically, you never think that an actual disaster will hit where you live.”

Contributing reports from Jacob Preal, City and crime editor.

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.