Each time Kristina Ortiz rides down Highway 1 through Malibu, Calif. an empty feeling overcomes her. It was the place that she grew to know and love – it is gone now.
Malibu Baptist Church, the place where Ortiz and her family spent their Christmases, fell victim to the blazing fires that occurred in California three weeks ago. It, along with several other churches, homes and businesses were destroyed. The fires also caused freeways to close and led to the illness of numerous children and babies.
Ortiz, 20, a third-year business administration student from Oxnard, Calif., was one of the victims of the fires. She was at home in her room when she heard about the blazing fires in her area.
“I turned on the TV and I heard the newscast talking about the fires,” Ortiz said. “I became highly concerned when I heard them mention Ventura County because that is where I am from.”
Thick yellow and orange dust particles covered cars and streets, resulting in sunless skies.
“It was real cloudy,” Ortiz said. “You couldn’t even see the sun. It became dark as early as two in the afternoon. There was also a bad odor that was worse than any campus fire or any fireplace. The stench is filled with everything burnt up, bodies, household products and cars.”
Because of the excessive amount of smoke, Ortiz’s family had to evacuate for a week and members of her family suffered from health problems.
“My 10-month-old niece developed a hacking cough and had trouble breathing,” said Ortiz. “She had to be taken to my grandmother’s house where she was put on 24-hour-watch care.”
Ortiz’s sister, who suffers from asthma, also had trouble breathing.
“My sister, who is a pre-school teacher, had to walk around with a mask over her face to keep the dust out of her lungs,” Ortiz said. “Students, who actually came to school, were required to stay indoors and all vents in the buildings were closed.”
Although members of her family suffered from health-related issues, Ortiz is happy that their home is okay.
“It’s unfortunate that so many people lost their homes,” Ortiz said. “It almost sickens me to know that the media cares so much about the celebrities and not the normal people in California.”
For Carmen Gay, 19, a second-year pharmacy student from San Diego, her family was severely affected by the wild fires.
“My aunt, uncle and cousin had to evacuate because they live two miles away from where the fires were,” Gay said. “There were ashes on their driveway and smoke and fog everywhere.”
With the wellness of her parents being priority, Gay wanted her family to be safe.
“I kept calling my aunt and my parents as well as my friends. I wanted to see if they were ok. I just kept on thinking ‘Oh my goodness. I hope they’re okay.'”
Gay and Ortiz’s families were not the only ones who had to evacuate from the fires.
“My uncle works for the San Diego Chargers,” Gay said. “The team had to evacuate to Arizona because they were not able to practice in the city.”
Although Gay is happy that everything is cleared up, she is fearful that the same thing will happen again.
“No one will ever really know how it feels,” she said. “I just pray for hope in the future. It is difficult dealing with the fires. They stop everything. I remember not being able to leave the house. They interrupted my everyday life.”
Not only have the fires impacted Gay’s family, it has also impacted the way she studies and the programs she watches on TV.
“When I study or watch TV, I think of home and everything that’s going on,” Gay said. “It’s always in the back of my mind.”
Gay said she wished there had been a way to stop the fires from happening, but, because of the dry landscape surrounding San Diego, the odds are not in her favor.
“People need to be aware. Whenever there is a natural disaster there is always someone who wants to add fuel to the fire. People need to stop doing that,” Gay said.
As stated in a report made by the associated press, at least one person was killed and dozens were injured. At least 655 homes were burned and 168 businesses and other structures were also destroyed.