Fire damage affects students; creates fundraising efforts
October 19, 2017
Wildfires have devastated California wine country and other parts of the state over the past week, with blazes blamed for at least 40 deaths and destroying some 5,700 structures.
While the danger from the deadliest, most destructive cluster of blazes in California history is far from over, the smoky skies have started to clear—including here in Santa Clara.
Junior Max Hedges said he received a text from a friend early in the morning of Oct. 9, asking if his family was safe.
Upon learning of the wildfire situation, he called his family at about 1:30 a.m. and they packed up the car in 20 minutes and left. Within the hour, his neighborhood just north of Santa Rosa was evacuated.
Hedges’ family had to be evacuated three times from the areas they sought accommodations. They did not have access to cable or the internet, so it was Hedges who monitored social media and followed updated fire maps of the affected areas.
When Hedges saw a video of a private school close to his neighborhood destroyed, he thought the fate of his home was the same.
“I saw that it was gone and thought my house was gone too,” he said.
According to Hedges, his aunt and uncle lost their home completely. Two of his friends from high school’s houses are destroyed as well. One of the friends found his mom’s engagement ring when picking through the rubble, as well as a silver trumpet.
Hedges is currently collecting supplies to send up to active shelters, such as clothes, pillows and blankets.
He received much support from students and was able to bring a carload of items up to his hometown last weekend. He has even received enough donations to make a second trip.
“I’ve had a week to come to terms with this,” said Hedges. “I went home last weekend and saw it and it was shocking. I don’t think it’s going to be the same.”
Senior Ben Lara attended the same high school as Hedges and said a lot of people he knew had to evacuate their homes.
As an economics major, he noted how housing prices are already expensive in his area, and how there will be a supply shock due to destroyed houses.
“I think it’s going to take years to rebuild and I don’t know if we’re ever going to bounce back completely,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see if people can even continue to live there.”
As a member of ROTC, Lara was planning to enlist in active duty upon graduation, but is now re-evaluating his options due to the in his hometown. He is considering entering the reserves to stay within Northern California.
“Santa Rosa has always been my home, it’s the only place I’ve ever lived except (Santa Clara),” he said. “I feel like I can’t just leave when this is happening.”
Although Hedges’ and Laras’ homes were not damaged, other students were not so lucky.
Junior Tanja Jeramaz’s family’s property was directly affected by the wildfires.
“I was in London when the fire happened, but the rest of my family was at our house in Napa. They managed to escape our house 30 minutes before the house caught fire,” said Jeramaz.
Her home was completely destroyed.
Jeramaz, who is currently studying abroad, said she was with friends on her way to breakfast when she was contacted by her family with the tragic news.
“My mom texted me that we had lost our house and it didn’t feel real,” said Jeramaz. “I called her and we were both crying. But I just remember I kept saying that it was going to be okay and we were going to get through this.”
According to Jeramaz, there are still many people from her town missing.
She said her community will have to come together to rebuild and recover from the tragedy.
“Personally, this fire has made my family stronger,” said Jeramaz. “It has made me realize that life is so short and you never know when you could lose everything, so you should never waste a moment stuck worrying about trivial and materialistic things.”
Students not from the Sonoma County area are also finding ways to help.
Sophomore Helen Kassa from San Jose was motivated to create a GoFundMe page last week on a day when the campus air quality was especially poor.
“I got so passionate when I smelled the smoke,” said Kassa. “When it’s literally in your face like that, you can’t just sit on your a**.”
Though the online fundraiser page started out as personal ambititon, the sophomore senator for ASG came up with the idea to create a relief project for the wildfire victims with ad hoc committee members.
She hopes to work with different RSOs and Greek life, as well as incorporating academic departments on campus.
An example of such inter-organization collaboration is the Oct. 19 food drive sponsored by SCAAP and ASG to collect nonperishable food to donate to the Redwood Empire Food Bank of Santa Rosa.
Kassa hopes the project can be sustainable and last throughout the year. She is in touch with people from Sonoma County to find out how Santa Clara students can help the most.
Greek life organizations are also getting involved to provide relief to victims.
Junior Keith Dorais, the philanthropy chair of Kappa Sigma, Sigma Omega chapter at Santa Clara and some brothers came up with the idea to create a fundraiser.
An online donation page was created on Oct. 12 and in less than 24 hours, the fraternity raised over $1,000 to donate to the American Red Cross California Wildfires Relief Efforts.
They set a new goal of $2,500, with a brother’s family promising to match the donation if the goal was met. They succeeded and created their latest goal of $7,500.
As of Wednesday afternoon, over $6,800 was raised by 80 donors.
“That’s our newest goal, I don’t know if we will reach it because most of the people who are going to give already have, at least within our fraternity and many of the sororities,” said Dorais.
He noted that the organization was also collecting monetary and item donations from sororities at their chapter meetings.
AP contributed reporting.
Contact Erin Fox at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.