West Coast wildfires displace Baylor students’ families

Fresno firefighter Peter Lopez holds a water hose as he monitors a backburn while fighting a wildfire on Friday. The California wildfires have destroyed 5,700 homes and structures. Photo credit: Associated Press

By Monica Rodriguez | Reporter

Throughout the past week, massive wildfires have been raging through northern California, destroying thousands of acres of land and adding the calamity to the list of one of the worst natural disasters to affect the United States this year.

As of Monday night, the death toll had reached over 41, with over hundreds of people hospitalized from smoke inhalation or burns, and thousands more faced with homelessness.

Among these feeling the effects are some families belonging to Baylor University students. Freshmen whose hometowns are in California make up for just over 11 percent of the student body population, according to Baylor’s enrollment statistics.

Allie McMurtry, a junior from Anaheim Hills, Calif., says she has had several close family members and friends lose everything as a result of the wildfires.

“I wasn’t too concerned about the wildfires at first, because we’ve had wildfires in the past that have been knocked out relatively quickly,” McMurtry said. “It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that I realized these recent ones were much, much worse.”

McMurtry said that over 7,000 acres were engulfed in flames within minutes in her hometown, and the evacuation process was not easy.

“What usually is a five-to-ten minute drive out of the area ended up taking some people over two hours to evacuate,” McMurtry said. “My family and our home luckily made it out OK but not being able help or do anything as a result of being so far away is really hard and stressful.”

Caroline Waterhouse, a junior from Baltimore, Md., says her family is suffering on both sides on the spectrum since she has relatives living in Santa Rosa, Calif.

“Not only do I feel helpless being here in Texas, but my family in Baltimore is also worried about our other relatives,” Waterhouse said. “All we can really do is just pray and hope that they’ll be able to rebuild.”

However, only over the weekend have the wildfires gotten any massive national media coverage, despite Canyon Fires increasing in the Sonoma County area since the beginning of October.

“In California, the wildfires are definitely getting plenty of news, but outside of that, I honestly don’t think people realize how bad it is,” McMurtry said. “With the northern California fires being 10 times more devastating, I think the media isn’t covering this situation the same way they do hurricanes and other natural disasters.”

According to a report by CNN, damages are estimated to cost an upward of $3 billion, but many are worried about just how much money is going to be available to assist with rebuilding.

“With Hurricane Harvey, there were so many GoFundMe’s set up and donations from celebrities,” Waterhouse said. “But it almost feels like people have forgotten that there are still thousands suffering on the other side of the country.”

As
of Monday
night, California fire crews have begun to advance on the
wildfires in several counties and hope to have many of them contained by the
end of October, according to NPR.

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