FIRE FOLLOWERS: PART 1

PART 1 || PART 2
Fire followers are plants that can lie dormant for years underneath the dense foliage of other plant life, never exposed to the sun. But following the extreme clearance of a large fire, they suddenly find themselves with access to sunlight, allowing them to bloom after destruction. In fall and winter of 2017, fires ravaged the state of California, eating through homes, trees and brush ranging from Northern California to UCLA’s own doorstep. The effects were and continue to be debilitating for the victims. But like fire followers, UCLA community members impacted by the fires have begun to rise from the ashes, learning to operate under new light. This package explores the effects of the California wildfires in Sonoma County and Los Angeles on UCLA community members as well as possible solutions for fire preparation in the future.
(Photos by Mackenzie Possee/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Members of nonprofit provide aid in aftermath of Northern California fire

BY CHRISTI CARRAS
A foggy day and the scent of smoke still have the power to trigger panic for Halea Waters. After volunteering at overflowing evacuation centers and watching so many of her students lose everything in the Tubbs fire, the UCLA alumna still has nightmares about also having to leave her home behind, almost eight months after the fire stopped burning.
Waters works for 10,000 Degrees, a nonprofit organization that provides students from low-income backgrounds with advising and financial aid management services to help them get into and through college. But in October, Waters and her coworkers refocused their efforts to aid Sonoma County community members affected by the Tubbs fire that struck that month, later recorded as the most destructive wildfire in California’s history. Despite a lack of communication and organization surrounding response and relief efforts, the 10,000 Degrees team witnessed responders and victims alike contributing whatever they could to the cause.
Gracie Francisco, a fellow at 10,000 Degrees, woke up in the early morning of Oct. 8 to her dogs’ barks and a smoky scent. She got out of bed and went outside to investigate – that was when she saw the smoke rising from a nearby raceway.
Saga Apostol Guedez, a college access advisor at 10,000 Degrees, was cat-sitting in a home surrounded by trees when she fell asleep for the night. She woke up to smoke and ash, wondering how she could get herself and the cats out of the house safely.
Flashes of flames, the crackling of burning shrubs and the haze of smoke overtook the nights of the 10,000 Degrees members. They were in the middle of the fire zone. They received no notification via phone or internet of possible evacuation measures; they were entirely unprepared. As far as Francisco knows, the only way in which information was distributed to the community was through a little-known alert app called Nixle, which sent messages updating users on the situation.
“It’s a situation where you never think it’s going to happen to you until it does, and so people aren’t prepared,” Francisco said. “But there was no system of communication. A lot of people were getting Nixle for the first time during the fire because they heard that there was something that was giving out information.”
Gracie Francisco, Hugo Que, Halea Waters and Saga Apostol Guedez work for a nonprofit organization called 10,000 Degrees, which provides college counseling and financial aid services to students from low-income backgrounds. But in October, the coworkers redirected their efforts to volunteer at evacuation sites responding to the Tubbs fire, which was later recorded as the most destructive wildfire in California’s history.
Despite the heavy vegetation in Sonoma County, Waters said she thinks more priority is placed on earthquake preparedness than fire-response plans in the Sonoma education system. Any fire training residents do receive pertains more to short-term survival rather than long-term planning, Francisco added.
“You don’t think about what are you going to do if you’re out of your house for two weeks in an evacuation center,” Francisco said. “What are you going to do if your entire house burns down?”
Several Sonoma residents faced these questions in early October, while others found themselves in another situation they hadn’t anticipated: providing refuge for fire victims. Some school gymnasiums, churches and other public spaces were ready to receive evacuees, while others, such as some local schools, scrambled because they had no idea they were on an evacuation center list to begin with, said Hugo Que, a college access advisor at 10,000 Degrees.
“People just had to learn how to open their doors and help out,” Que said.
Starting Oct. 9, Waters, Francisco, Apostol Guedez and Que drove across the county to various evacuation and relief sites providing aid to masses from as little as 50 to as many as 200 and asked those in charge how they could help. In some cases, the group arrived with bulk items, such as diapers and water, only to find the centers were already equipped with the essentials. Relief workers instead sent them out to retrieve less practical but still crucial items, such as crossword puzzles to take the victims’ minds off the trauma.
While volunteering at a middle school, Francisco said a woman pulled them aside and motioned toward a pacing man who appeared to be lost in his thoughts. He had just lost his entire home, and he needed a distraction, something to relieve his mind of the pain, she told them. The team returned with crossword puzzles, word searches and coloring books.
“We didn’t ask about it or try to get into his business, but you could tell he was grateful,” Francisco said.
The group said many of the evacuation centers they visited were generally disorganized, with multiple people in charge communicating differing needs. However, the genuine willingness to help in any way possible, both on behalf of the victims and the responders, inspired them to contribute more.
“It helped me cope with what was going on in the community,” Waters said. “I was like, ‘I have to get out there.’”
Small acts of unexpected kindness surfaced at relief centers. In one instance, the community worked to accommodate a young fire victim with special needs who would only eat food if it came in a white wrapper. Others at the center took to wrapping available food in white. Small incidences of humanity like these colored the group’s experience in the relief effort, Francisco said.
While the college access advisors are no longer volunteering at evacuation centers, they still see the effects of the fires through their work with their students. During the fire, many of their mentees lost their homes, making it difficult to focus on upcoming college applications. Untrained in social work, the colleagues found themselves trying to strike a complex balance between providing emotional support and helping their students continue to work toward their academic aspirations.
“It was a process for us to learn how to really work with our students to get our goals done yet at the same time, acknowledge that there’s so much more going on,” Que said. “And then those evenings, we would go out and volunteer, and I would see some of our students at the shelters, and it hits home.”
Though some schools, such as those in the University of California system, extended their fall 2017 application deadlines for fire victims, students still found it hard to think about anything other than their personal situations, Waters said. The prolonged absences of student fire victims began to affect their classmates who weren’t directly impacted by the disaster by lowering morale in classrooms. Some students dropped out after losing motivation to attend school altogether, Waters said.
“It’s hard to focus in your class when you’re sitting in empty rows,” she said.
For others, the emergency was a catalyst for positive change. One of Waters’ students, who had dropped his entire class schedule in the fall, joined the first responders in Sonoma County. His experience volunteering in relief efforts made him realize he wanted to pursue humanitarian work, and he now has plans to transfer to San Francisco State University, where he wants to pursue a communication studies degree, Waters said.
Some of the local students had more to lose than their homes. Many of the families enrolled in 10,000 Degrees are undocumented, contributing added anxiety to an already-stressful scenario, Francisco said. And yet, again and again, the colleagues saw widespread healing and resilience.
“I see people like my students and the people I work with ... they have all the reason to worry about themselves, but they stay there and work without question,” Que said. “And I tell my seniors, ‘Now you have something to write about in college essays.’”

UCLA student helps family move forward after fire ravaged Santa Rosa home

BY NATE NICKOLAI

UCLA

Brock Bauer was asleep when his home burned down.
Tucked into bed in his De Neve dorm room, the second-year financial actuarial mathematics student had no idea that his house was in the midst of a raging wildfire that would go on to devastate Northern California.
But he would find out when he woke up.

Honey, there is a huge fire in Santa Rosa. We had to evacuate at 1:30am. We are okay and at the Milestone office with the Cohills.

I love you more than words. I am so sorry that so many mementos have been lost. It is too much. To bear. Stay safe my love. We love you so.

I love you guys so much as well. It's terrible what happened, but as long as we all are safe that is what is important. Let me know if I can help in any way mom.

Bauer awoke to several missed calls from his mom. His parents had already found out from friends and co-workers that their house likely did not escape the fire, and now Leslie Bauer had to break the news to her son. In one night, a fire had reduced all of Brock Bauer’s possessions to those within his De Neve dorm room.
“It was just inconceivable to me that a fire could happen there," Brock Bauer said. “I mean it was hilly, but it was so residential that you’d never imagine that occurring.”

Santa Rosa

The night before, Brock Bauer's parents awoke to calls from their neighbor about a growing fire nearby. Although wary of the fire, Marshall Bauer said they had not received any urgent emergency alerts, so the pair decided to grab some coffee at a local Denny’s and wait for some more information.
They hopped in their cars with their dog Ryder, and headed out to what they thought would just be a late-night meal.
“We took nothing," Leslie Bauer said. “We all just assumed that we were coming back.”
What they didn’t know was that the Tubbs fire would go on to become one of the most destructive wildfires in California state history. The fire burned hundreds of buildings to the ground in one night, fueled largely in part by unusually high-speed winds and a surplus of foliage in the surrounding areas. Thousands of people lost their homes, and more than 20 people lost their lives.
The Tubbs fire destroyed several neighborhoods the night that it burned throughout Santa Rosa, California. Many homes were destroyed as well as the surrounding cars and household items. (Courtesy of Brock Bauer)
However, during the early hours of the morning, the fire was just beginning, and the Bauers had no idea what to expect. More and more people began to file into the Denny's, and when residents of an upscale retirement home in the Bauers’ neighborhood arrived disheveled and without clothing, the pair began to worry. Still, Leslie Bauer said they clung to hope that their home would be spared and closely watched the media for any sort of confirmation.
“You keep holding on to that thread of hope that it would still be there,” she said.

The return

Flights were down following the fire, and Brock Bauer couldn’t get home, even if he had a home to get back to.
But a little more than a week later, he secured himself a flight to Santa Rosa and returned to Northern California to help his parents during the aftermath of the fire. What he returned to, though, was no longer the neighborhood of his childhood but a decimated war zone complete with ash and the National Guard, he said.
"I had felt okay. It had been a week and I had kind of come to terms with it,” Bauer said. “But it was pretty shaking just to see somewhere you had lived for 10 years completely flattened to rubble. ... Every single house (belonged to) childhood friends, neighbors and everyone we knew."
Brock Bauer, a second-year financial actuarial mathematics student, came home to find that his house had been reduced to rubble by the fire. Only his family’s patio furniture survived; however, looters stole the unburned furniture before they could recover it. (Courtesy of Brock Bauer)
Looters had run rampant over the neighborhoods, so security was strict. Bauer said he and his parents waited more than an hour in line to show their IDs to a National Guardsman before they could even set foot in their neighborhood – or at least what was left of it.
Bauer said everything was blackened, either by fire or by the resulting soot: the rubble of his home, the ground he walked on, every car and every door. Mixed with the smell of burning plastics and household items, it felt unnatural, he said.
The Bauers lost almost all of their possessions in the fire, including more sentimental items like family photos and Marshall Bauer's World War II memorabilia. (Courtesy of Brock Bauer)
But after helping out as much as he could, Bauer had to return to UCLA in time for week four classes. His house had burned down, but he still had homework to worry about.
"It was pretty distracting from everything – it was definitely on my mind,” Bauer said. “After my parents had gotten out and after probably the first three days were done, I knew they were going to be safe, but it was just so much to rebuild.”

The recovery

Insurance suddenly became a significant issue in Bauer’s life during the weeks following the fires.
Sitting in his dorm room after class, he would pull out his laptop and begin sifting through a mental image of his home, moving room by room and drawer by drawer.
“So much of it was spent writing down lists and lists and lists of every single thing that I had ever owned ... down to a bottle of aspirin,” he said.
His parents were going through a similar experience back in Santa Rosa, all while trying to find a new home to live in. Marshall Bauer said they had decided to rebuild, but they couldn’t stay in their friends’ guesthouse forever.
After approximately five weeks, they moved into a small country house north of Healdsburg, California, where they began to settle in as best they could. Their new home was no longer at the heart of a cul-de-sac but tucked away deep into the country.
“It’s been weird coming back Christmas break, and you’re driving back to a rental house that you’ve never seen before in your life,” Brock Bauer said.
But both Marshall and Leslie Bauer had set out to make it as similar to their old home as possible, each in their own ways. Marshall Bauer said he focused on rebuilding family hobbies, such as skiing and biking, so the Bauers could make new memories together.
Leslie Bauer said she called as many people as she could that might have photos of the family – they suddenly only had photos together of their son in college after losing almost all of their memories in their old house. However, even with all their work, she said she can still feel the impact of the fire today.
“Once the fires are out, a lot of the attention goes away,” she said. “But everyone’s lives have been so dramatically affected, and that’s going to continue for years and years.”
But losing almost everything hasn’t kept the family from making new memories. On Christmas, Brock Bauer said they started a new tradition of gifting ornaments for a new, live tree to replace their old, plastic one. As they exchanged gifts, he received the first ornament of their tradition – a trout to represent his passion for fishing.
“I honestly can say that it was weird, but it was definitely the most family-feeling Christmas we had," Brock Bauer said. "Everyone was safe, and we were in a new place that wasn’t exactly ideal, but it just felt the most like pure Christmas."

Coffey Park

Lisa Carreño is a member of the board of directors for the Rebuild Northbay Foundation, which was created to assist the reconstruction process through advocacy, coordination, and economic and workforce development, according to its website.
Coffey Park, a community in Santa Rosa, California, was reduced to ash by the Tubbs fire in October.
When homes burn down, heavy metals, such as zinc, copper and lead, can be found in the rubble, threatening to contaminate nearby water.
Heat from the fires caused rocks in the area to become almost glassy in texture.
The foundations of many homes still remain intact after the disaster.
The fire destroyed 1,347 homes, but the community is working on rebuild efforts to restore the neighborhood.
Coffey Strong is an effort created by members of the Santa Rosa community to provide information that will help the neighborhood rebuild as quickly as possible and assist people in navigating the complicated reconstruction process, according to its website.
Charred items from the suburban neighborhood still remain throughout Coffey Park.
Members of the Santa Rosa community are welcome to attend Coffey Strong meetings and workshops that focus on providing advice on financial planning and adding energy-efficient water systems for new homes.
Some homes have more remnants than others, including steps, mailboxes and debris.
Some families returned to their homes to decorate the remaining trees over the holidays in December.
The edge of Coffey Park contrasts starkly with the surrounding homes that were spared by the fire.

Pepperwood Preserve and Linked Vineyards

Jessica Link and Drew Johnson returned to their vineyards after the Tubbs fire to find that their home was still standing. The fire, which burned in early October, forced them to evacuate for 19 days. The vineyards and family homes on the property survived due to the cleared land and building techniques, but the wildlife and brush were burned in the fire. Researchers at the Pepperwood Preserve’s Dwight Center for Conservation Science typically use their 3,200 acre nature preserve as an educational tool for applied conservation, but the Tubbs fire reshifted their research when it blazed through the area. Now, Lisa Micheli, the president and CEO of the Pepperwood Foundation, and David Ackerly, a professor of integrative biology and researcher at the UC Berkeley who does field work at the Pepperwood Preserve, traveled to the Linked Vineyards to tour Link and Johnson’s land and better understand the impact of the Tubbs fire.
Three generations of Link’s family have owned and worked the vineyards and wildlands of the Linked Vineyards.
Ackerly brought along satellite images showing how the fire transformed Link and Johnson’s property. While their homes and vineyards were relatively uneffected by the blaze, the wildlands were cleared by the fire.
The wildland surrounding the vineyards was completely blazed by the fire. “A wet winter followed by a hot summer is actually the most conducive to fires,” Ackerly said. “Because a wet winter (causes) plant growth, and then a hot summer dries it up.”
Ackerly’s research at Berkeley centers on ecology, evolution, climate change and conservation, focusing on California’s native plants, according to the Ackerly Lab’s website.
The blaze cleared brush from the wildland on the property, resulting in lush, vibrant green grass that has grown in the months since the fire.
Heat from the fire transformed rocks on the property, causing some to crumble.
Johnson said the land was the clearest he had ever seen it since the fire burned through brush and trees. “I have been out wandering around because I can more than I ever have before,” he said.
The fire burned through roots in the soil, weakening the earth, Micheli said.
Micheli said one of the major issues people face following fires is deciding which burned trees and vegetation to remove, since they risk falling in the weakened soil.
The Tubbs fire burned 36,807 acres, making it the most destructive wildfire in California’s history.
Link and Johnson examined the trees on their property that survived the fire.
The remnants of the fire’s impact are still visible on the charred bark of trees.
Link said the fire took them by surprise and lasted for about four hours. “When I smelled the smoke, my husband was like, ‘You’re overreacting.’ He was like, ‘Go to bed,’” she said. “So I go upstairs, and then we get the call. But we went up to these mountaintops and we couldn’t see anything. ... And then within 30 minutes, it was here.”
According to Pepperwood’s website, the foundation and preserve is assisting in the formation and monitoring of management strategies for the North Bay’s forests with an emphasis on the relationships among climate change, drought and fire.
“You’ll see that these trees, their roots are holding the soils in place, and so if the burn is hot enough, the roots actually get lost, the soils get weaker, and they’re easier to slide,” Micheli said.
Ackerly said prescribed burns could possibly assist wildlands, like what happened on Link and Johnson’s property, but they create other problems: Chaparral grows back very quickly, so the process of controlled burning would need to be repeated after just a few years. Chaparral fires are also very weather-driven, making them susceptible to Southern Californian conditions, such as the Santa Ana winds, Ackerly said.
Trees fell throughout the property following the fire.
Vibrant plants popped up throughout the burned forest.
Treetops sprouted fresh leaves throughout the wildland on Link and Johnson’s property.
Johnson stands in front of their home, which survived the fire.