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Local families have been checking the news daily for evacuation orders since fires broke out in Northern California over two weeks ago, on August 15th. With over 1.4 million acres burned in two weeks, fire containment was barely in the 10% range for the first few days, with Evacuation Orders and Warnings given to many Bay Area counties.  

Krishna Parthasarathy drove to Fairfield to check his in-law’s home, as they were out of town. “There were cops all around,” he said. “We had to say we had to evacuate the cat. This is not the first time this has happened.” 

Mr. Parthasarathy tried to think about what his in-laws would want him to take. He cleared out the puja room. Every single thing, including the mandap, hand-stitched Bhagavad Gita paintings, and photos of the acharyas.

Face masks and sanitation supplies were the top two items on evacuation packing lists found online. With California reaching­ over 700,000 COVID cases this was a stark reminder that families concerned about the survival of their homes must also take precautions with their physical health. 

Padma Srinivasan of Fremont could not see down the street from her home, which was in an evacuation warning zone. “What happened was one day, it got so bad. The road going from our house is a little narrow. So, we left,” said Ms.  Srinivasan. “I took some essential things. Some things that are sentimental and some things that are valuable.”

After the fires started, the Air Quality Index for many districts went past 170, well into the Unhealthy range. Yaamini Rao, who lives up the Peninsula, was woken up by the lighting that first Sunday. Since then she has been staying indoors. “You can see the haze all over. It smells like an endless campfire,” said Ms. Rao.

CAL FIRE lifted the Evacuation Orders and Warnings for Alameda and  San Joaquin counties as of August 31st regarding the SCU Lightning Complex fires, which is at 60% containmentSanta Clara County continues to have warnings in place but many are in the process of being lifted.  Santa Cruz County has begun Phase 4 repopulation where fire containment is at 39%. The LNU Lightning Complex fires are at 66% containment. “The firemen are doing a fantastic job,” said Ms. Srinivasan. “We owe a lot to them.” 

This experience has prompted many to reflect on what is valuable and important and essential. “We have so many possessions and they can become a burden. We don’t need that much to live, you know?,” said Ms. Srinivasan. “When we go to Yama, Yama does not let us bring a suitcase. We go empty-handed,” said Mr. Parthasarathy.

Here are some resources to check on the fires if you’re in an affected region: CAL FIRE, CalTopo (California Topographical Maps), WildFire Information, Cal Fire SCU Twitter, Cal Fire CZU Twitter, Cal Fire LNU Twitter, Air Quality, Evacuation List.

Check out the previous India Currents’ article on disaster preparedness!


Sree Sripathy is a photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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