This week in California, fires have devastated the northern part of the state, including wine country. As of Tuesday night, 15 deaths were reported, and the two biggest blazes have burned nearly 115,000 acres of land. At least 1,500 homes, businesses, wineries, resorts, and other structures have been destroyed and almost 20,000 people have had to evacuate, leaving behind homes, schools, land, and belongings. Most of the fatalities come from Sonoma County.
Right now thousands of firefighters all over the state continue to battle the firestorm. Vice President Mike Pence said President Trump has approved a major disaster declaration for the state of California due to these fires.
My heart, and I'm sure yours, goes out to people who've lost their homes or who've had to evacuate not knowing when they'll return or what will be left. I can't imagine what it feels like to pack up children, pets, and a few precious belongings and go. Long after the fires are contained and the immediate threat has passed, uncertainty and fear about the future will remain. As time goes on, California won't be in the forefront of my mind. That doesn't mean I won't notice the after effects.
When people lose their homes, or when a whole area is devastated, they also lose jobs, especially if those jobs are in farming, food, or wine production, because one big cleanup won't restore the lost possibilities for years to come. In September alone, the United States lost 33,000 jobs, which has been attributed in large part to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Many of those jobs were in the restaurant industry, where people often don't get paid if they can't work. Farming jobs don't materialize out of thin air, especially when arable land is in shorter supply and equipment is damaged beyond repair.
Most of us don't buy strictly locally sourced food, no matter how hard we try. We depend on other states and countries to fill in the gaps. We might not think of these fires two years from now when we head to the store and can't find our favorite wine. But natural disasters can change the way we eat and drink long after they're no longer featured in the daily news. Every time there's a natural disaster anywhere in the world, I think of the land, the farms, and the people who depend on them to live.
I always like to look on the bright side (people say it can get annoying), but there's no real way to end this on a positive note. Reading stories about people opening their homes and offering to help neighbors who've lost so much is heartwarming, but it doesn't magically make everything better. I hope you'll join me in keeping everyone who's suffering in your thoughts, your prayers, or whatever kind of positive thing you have to offer, now and in the future.