What a Survivor of the Woolsey Fire Wants You to Know

published Dec 5, 2018
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(Image credit: John Dvorak)

This has been the most destructive wildfire season on record in California. At time of writing, the Camp Fire in Northern California was fully contained and had burned more than 150,000 acres, killing 88 people with nearly 158 people unaccounted for. To the south, the Woolsey Fire, also 100 percent contained, burned nearly 10,000 acres and killed three people—rain is expected to now hit the area, bringing with it possible mudslides.

Though the fires are no longer raging, and the news cycle may be coming to a close on these fires, the damage will affect communities for years, if not decades. The statistics are striking, and with so much to rebuild, it can be overwhelming deciding where to start.

Knowing that the best place to find information is to talk to someone on the ground, I spoke to Shelby Meade, a marketing and PR strategist and four-year resident of Malibu, to find out what we need to know about the devastation this community has experienced, the misconceptions to avoid, and what we can do to help.

For starters, much of the coverage of the California fires, especially in areas like Malibu, has been dominated by celebrity news. And while Malibu is certainly a haven for celebrities and second homes, Meade reminds us that the community is actually a hodgepodge of different classes who have all been affected in their own way by the fire. For example, 30 percent of Malibu citizens are renters. Unlike homeowners, who are required to have insurance if they have a mortgage, tenants aren’t required to have renters insurance. That means there is a large portion of Malibu who don’t have extra funds coming their way.

Meade says it’s important to support local organizations that help provide immediate relief. Two local organizations of note are The Boys & Girls Club of Malibu and The Malibu Foundation.

The Boys and Girls Club focuses on providing immediate emergency relief for families and individuals. By honing in on relief for those with demonstrated need, the Boys & Girls Club is able to provide interim housing, food, water, clothing, transportation, medical supplies, school materials, and more.

Additionally, since there is a large working population in Malibu and schools, and at time of writing, many public schools still haven’t reopened, the Boys & Girls Club is able to provide childcare so parents can go back to work. “Kids need people to take care of them while the adults figure stuff out,” Meade says.

Just recently launched (with the help of celebs including Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, among others), the Malibu Foundation’s mission is provide donations to programs that will support and rebuild the Malibu community and neighbors hurt by the Woolsey Fire. At the time of writing, the Foundation has already gifted $500,000—half to the Boys and Girls Club of Malibu and half to the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

While Meade is optimistic about Malibu’s future—citing the fact that the community came together to organize a mass evacuation down a one-way-in, one-way-out road in as smooth and calm a manner as possible—she says the fire has been a huge wake-up call and most community members know it’s not a matter of if another catastrophe happens, but when.

“It could be an earthquake, it could be anything,” Meade says. “We need to be better prepared—in every city—for these probables.”

Her takeaway for those not affected this time? Work with elected officials and community organizations to promote preparedness for when Mother Nature strikes because it’s likely to happen to you, too, sometime in the future. From investing in infrastructure, to prepping better evacuation plans, it is the citizen’s role to advocate for emergency planning that will best protect them not if, but when disaster hits.

Donate to The Boys & Girls Club of Malibu or The Malibu Foundation today to help support the Malibu community and its neighbors. Here are other ways to help California wildfire victims in other areas.