A burned tricycle sits as the sun sets over a neighborhood reduced to ash.

While not the only areas impacted by the wildfires, when many think of Napa and Sonoma in California, it conjures up images of lush vineyards with rolling hills and vibrant green landscapes. Those mental images are in stark contrast to images of devastation wrought by the fires—filled with bold orange flames and gray ash as far as the eye can see. Vineyards, some of the hallmarks of the area, are being reduced to singed grapes and empty fields with nothing for a 2017 vintage; a somber reminder of its own. Many areas are being scorched, reduced to nothing more than their frames and fragments, and residents are being forced to leave their businesses, homes, and lives behind. Some are able to come home, having been spared the wrath of the fires and having little or no damage—while others have lost it all.

These fires have caused immense amounts of damage across several Californian counties. Firefighters from across the West Coast and the country have come together to minimize the damage from these destructive fires.

As FEMA, we’ve worked with the state of California to approve several fire management assistance grants to help supplement the steep monetary costs of fighting the many fires across California and provide funding for additional man power.

After those grants were approved, we approved a major disaster declaration for several counties for public assistance which can help repair damaged infrastructure in the burned areas. As assessments of the damage continued, individual assistance was approved and included, allowing individuals and households to apply for grants and assistance to rebuild their homes in Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sonoma, and Yuba counties—some of the hardest hit areas.

Fires aren’t often declared as major disasters. Many of them are able to be contained with the manpower and support of local and state departments and through mutual aid from other neighboring areas, while others only need supplemental assistance via the aforementioned fire management assistance grants—that’s what they’re designed for. These fires, however, are different. They pose particular challenges and have been fueled by persistent dry conditions and high winds. To put it in the simplest terms, these fires are dangerous. Evacuation orders can be sent and can change quickly—and are not to be taken lightly. Local emergency management agencies will issue these orders; always take them from trusted sources. If you aren’t sure if an evacuation order is legitimate, check your local emergency management office’s website or tune in to your local news or radio station—they’ll be relaying the best, most trusted and up-to-date information. If you were evacuated and are now looking to head home, those same local authorities will be helping to provide re-entry protocols and the best guidance for how to start cleaning up. Debris left over from fires can be hazardous to your health.

And while many areas are seeing progress being made, fire conditions can change quickly and new fires can start at any time. If you are in an area that may be evacuated, one of the best tips we can give is to be prepared. Have a “go-bag” ready with a change of clothes, a flashlight, cash, extra prescriptions, and any other supplies you may need. Keep your gas tank at least half-full in case you have to get out of the area quickly, with not a lot of time to spare.  

If you want to help the areas affected by these fires we recommend donating cash rather than goods to trusted organizations like those that are part of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. Donating cash makes it easier for groups to best help people who need it, allowing them to get exactly the resources they need when they need them. The state of California also has a very helpful website for area-specific organizations to donate to, with tips and advice for those looking to donate.

We continue to support all of the areas of the country that have been impacted by recent disasters. From fires to floods, it’s been a busy time for us, but we continue on—regardless of the area and what disaster impacted them; to help states (and territories) respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.