Canadians affected by destructive California wildfires speak out
Images of billowing dark plumes and bright flames devouring landscapes and structures continue to emerge from California.
As multiple wildfires burn, officials have been working around the clock to keep them from destroying yet more communities. Adding to the already arduous task has been the wind.
Edmonton-born Thousand Oaks resident Dana Baker is a professor at California State University. For the time being, she is hunkered down at home, but her van has been packed with provisions in case she has to flee on short notice.
“We have food, water, clothing,” she told Global News. “That’s going to be in the car for the foreseeable future because I think that’s basically the only plan when you’re driving in a direction that you don’t know what the direction is going to be.”
The Camp Fire, located in the northern part of the state, has consumed 125,000 acres and is only 30 per cent contained. Forty-eight people have been killed, making this the deadliest wildfire in California’s history.
Baker resides in an area that has been at the mercy of the Woolsey Fire, which has destroyed more than 96,000 acres and is just 35 per cent contained.
She has been sleeping with a military-grade face mask and hard hat at her bedside as a precaution.
“One of the things that’s been tough is to know where to go to seek safety because the fires are cropping up in different areas.”
Elias Toufexis and his wife Michelle Boback-Toufexis now call Agoura Hills home. They were under an evacuation order, but that has since been lifted.
“I drove around the neighbourhood and the further I got, the less I was able to see,” Elias recalled of last week.
“You know when you go camping and you stand next to a campfire? And then you go home and you smell the campfire. That’s what our car smelled like, so it was everywhere. So we said, ‘We’ve got to get out of here.'”
They live a short distance from Thousand Oaks, where only days ago, a gunman went on a rampage at a nightclub, killing 12 people.
“The morning that we got the news about the shooting, that afternoon the fire started,” Michelle recounted. “The neighbourhood was just shut down so nobody’s really grieved together yet. I think that’s going to start happening now that the evacuation is lifted.”
The couple, both actors from British Columbia and Quebec, have two young children. Michelle’s parents were in town visiting when the fire broke out and the family was forced to flee.
They say that despite the stress and confusion of the situation, the resilience and generosity of Californians shone through.
“We’ve only been here a short time and there were offers from everyone we knew. ‘Come stay with us. Do you need money for the hotel? Do you need food? Do you need me to bring you something?'” said Elias.
While their house was untouched, others in the community were not so fortunate. Several of their friends have lost their homes.
Meg De Bassecourt and her husband moved from Toronto to Woodland Hills about six months ago. After leaving their home behind, she returned on Tuesday with their three young children.
“Moving from Canada to the states has made me resilient,” she told Global News. “We’re just kind of going with it because there’s not much you can do. You’re powerless in this situation.”
De Bassecourt described a thick, oppressive smoke that compromised the air quality and blanketed the sky.
According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC), there has been no formal request from the United States for assistance. They have been in constant communication with the National Interagency Coordination Centre in Boise, Idaho.
Executive director of the CIFFC, Kim Connors, said California still has a number of resources at its disposal, including assistance from other states.
“When we see something as devastating as the fires in California or in Fort McMurray, everybody wants to help, but in the case of firefighting expertise, the state of California is probably the best state in the U.S. in terms of being positioned for this.”
There is, however, a longstanding arrangement in place between Transport Quebec and L.A. County. Since 1994, they have been loaning the Americans two CL-415 aircraft to deal with wildfires. They are currently assisting in the fight.
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