Extinguishing the effects of the fire

Noa Schwartz

A month ago around five a.m., I was woken to the sound of helicopters and the smell of smoke. I had around five minutes to evacuate my house entirely, with little time to grab any of my belongings.

Just minutes later, I watched from the television in my grandparents’ house as the two homes directly across the street from mine were engulfed in flames.

That morning was full of uncertainty. As the fire continued to spread, I eventually had to tear myself away from watching the news as the potential of losing my own home became more real.
I knew I was not alone in my fears, and I certainly did not feel alone that day. I was surrounded by family, and my friends were incredibly generous and supportive: checking in on me, offering to bring clothes and food and sending simple messages trying to cheer me up. In an extremely difficult time, I found a lot to be thankful for.

That being said, watching newscasters display what felt to be a lack empathy throughout the day was far from easy. They interviewed distressed people without expressing ample condolences, asking questions that made interviewees clearly uncomfortable.

I did not understand the intensity of emotion in a situation like this until I was in that position myself. Similarly, watching many of my peers enjoy their days off without a care in the world felt like a personal attack, even though I knew it wasn’t.

Though many students had midterms lingering in the back of their mind during this time, midterms were my last priority. For the two days we had off from school, I was worried that strong winds would restart fires in my neighborhood.

My teachers and dean were nothing but accommodating and understanding, but I did not feel that the administration showed enough sensitivity in returning the school to a state of normalcy.
I received many emails reminding me to keep up with work and studying and was disappointed to find that my midterm was altered and revised for content in only one of my classes.
With the imminent release of college decisions, the fires forced me to reevaluate what’s truly important.

While I understand that the school runs on an extremely well-thought-out schedule and a multitude of exceptions to that schedule were made in light of the fire, I wish more thought had been given to the bigger picture.

The best way to respond to an issue as unexpected and destructive as a natural disaster is to emphasize a sense of community.

Only one of my teachers acknowledged the fire at the start of class. I would have appreciated more brief opportunities for discussion or reflection.

In general, I felt that following the immediate shock of our local fires, there was not adequate awareness or government action. This problem persists: as recently as Jan. 1, a no-burn alert was in effect for all of Los Angeles — dangerous particles in the air continue to impact us.

Writing this piece, I feel slightly self-righteous. Yes, my family and I faced a difficult few weeks; however, compared to our neighbors and many others in California, we are incredibly lucky. Three weeks after evacuating, I returned to my home to find remarkably little damage.

The Skirball Fire serves as a reminder to us all not to take anything for granted, and I hope that going forward, the community approaches issues like these with heightened care and sensitivity.