Blue Cut Fire Disaster Aid
Announcements | August 23, 2016 by National Headquarters (Western Region)
It began on August 16th, 2016, as a small brush fire north of San Bernadino, California, some 60 miles from Los Angeles. Yet the insignificance of the Blue Cut Fire was short-lived, as within 2 hours, the explosive blaze had already claimed a few thousand acres and was spreading with such ferocity that it was spouting fire tornadoes along the way.
The Blue Cut Fire would rage for a week before it was close to contained, forcing the evacuation of more than 80,000 people; burning more than 37,000 acres; and destroying over 100 homes and 200 buildings that lay in its path.
Tzu Chi USA’s relief mission began with a disaster assessment, followed by distributions of cash cards. This blog follows the progress of the mission with regular updates.
August 26: 1st Disaster Relief Distribution
The first distribution of cash cards took place just 6 days after the disaster assessment began.
The event took place at Phelan Elementary School, where a total of $8,000 in financial aid was provided, benefitting 24 families.
Many people shared their tragic stories with volunteers, and expressed their gratitude for the help they were offered.
“Three out of four houses were destroyed on the property. There’s only one left standing and it’s not livable. Eight people (have no home) right now, disabled adults and children. Me and my wife are the only ones that aren’t disabled. I’m amazed that you guys helped me out with this much money, I can’t believe it.”
- Shann Polly, Aid Recipient
Sheila Worthington was also among those helped, and she still remembers the terrifying night the fire came to her doorstep and claimed her house, a memory that is still vivid as she tells the story:
“I heard a large boom … and my father’s disabled … so I feared that he’d fallen … and I look up and the whole porch was engulfed in flames … I ran outside to grab the hose … I couldn’t get the hose to work so I ran in to get my dad and I was barefoot, that was my main concern, getting my dad out…”
- Sheila Worthington, Aid Recipient
Sheila lost some of her beloved pets in the fire, and she suffered second degree burns on the bottom of her feet. And now she has to start over as well:
“I’ve lost everything I’ve ever owned … I’m displaced and it’s been almost a month … I thank you for being there for me because nobody helped so it’s a blessing that you guys are going to help me, and I thank you, and I thank all the donors.”
- Sheila Worthington, Aid Recipient
It will take time for people to recover, and the road ahead will be hard without a doubt.
Tzu Chi USA is collaborating with the American Red Cross to provide these distributions.
Georgia Dunkin, who has volunteered with the Red Cross for several years, revealed the trauma that people evacuated while the Blue Cut Fire was raging and out of control endured:
“The biggest problem was the unknown, people did not know whether their homes were still there, they had no idea whether their animals were safe, they just didn’t know … When they started releasing the addresses of the destroyed homes, our team was there to support those people as they found out the worst information and some of them found out the best information. We had tears of joy and we had tears of total devastation all at one time.”
- Georgia Dunkin, Media Relations, American Red Cross
Tzu Chi volunteers were attentive to the emotions of survivors at this distribution, as they are during every disaster relief mission, because the psychological support and encouragement offered is perhaps even more important than the financial aid provided.
August 20: Disaster Assessment
Tzu Chi USA responded to the Blue Cut Fire without delay, and on August 20th, volunteers in California travelled to Victorville, San Bernadino, to begin a disaster assessment.
Working in collaboration with law enforcement and local government officials, volunteers visited several devastated areas, some of which were hard to access since many roads were still blocked.
The disaster assessment team learned that the area that sustained the most damage, as nearly everything was consumed by the flames, was around the town of Wrightwood.
The team is now continuing its assessment and beginning to formulate an action plan to help Blue Cut Fire victims. We will keep you updated on the progress of the mission as it advances over the next few weeks.
This is the 6th wildfire causing extensive damage in California this year. Tzu Chi USA has been providing disaster relief since June, hosting 6 distributions of direct emergency aid, distributing over $106,250, and benefiting more than 560 families.