I Lost My Home In The Woolsey Fires

I Lost My Home in the Woolsey Fires — Is Climate Change To Blame?

I lost my house in the Woolsey Fires on November 9th, 2018 and I can't help but ask myself if climate change was a contributing factor in the complete destruction of my childhood home, neighborhood, and community.

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It's been four months since I've been home. It's been four months since I last sat on my bed staring at my corkscrew board covered with frozen memories from when I was little to now. It's been four months since I walked down the stained and intricately woven Persian rug, my mom has had since I was born, stretching from one end of the house to another. It's been four months since I sat outside on the porch, watching the trees sway back and forth in the last golden rays of sun. Home is where I learned how to ride a bike without training wheels, it's where my youngest brother took his first steps as a baby. It's where I grew up for fifteen years of my life. I woke up and fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing against the headlands of Point Dume in Malibu, California.

On November 9th, 2018 I lost my childhood home and neighborhood in the Woolsey Fires. Just a day and a half before was the mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, just twenty minutes away from my house, and five minutes away from where my brothers and I went to swim practice. Processing the heartbreaking turn of events in those couple of days was one of the hardest situations I had to process—if not the hardest. On November 8th, the night before the fire blazed through Malibu, one of my high school friends called me letting me know she was evacuating from a fire that had started in Thousand Oaks, just a couple of miles away from where the shooting occurred. She sounded calm but more annoyed about evacuating. Growing up in California, you're kind of used to evacuations happening from over the years, evacuating that night wasn't anything of terrifying. Still in shock from the shootings, and now many more of my high school friends evacuating I could only hope that everyone I knew, and those a part of the Thousand Oaks community were safe.

The next morning, I woke up to the news of the fire having spread from Thousand Oaks, jumping the 101 freeway, and traveling down the mountain through Agoura into Malibu. My house is above the water, I remember thinking. It will never get there, it never has. Within just a couple of hours, I had received the news that my home was burning to the ground, my dad and brother witnesses after staying behind in an effort to save our house.

It's been four months and I find myself looking back at photos, videos, google images and whatever I can find of my house. The way in which it was sitting comfortably atop our driveway, my favorite tree in the front yard's branches shaping into a beautiful and bright green bulb, shading the grass below.

As I find myself trying to remember all the moments I had growing up in my house, I can't help but ask myself if climate change was a factor in the destruction and loss of homes that not only I, but my entire community suffers from. The Woolsey fire was in fact, the most destructive wildfire ever in Los Angeles County, burning 96,949 acres.

I had grown up accustomed to fires happening in Southern California, while only ever evacuating twice ever in the fifteen years I had been living here. But losing my home and everything in it was something unimaginable.

It astounds me how far the fire reached from the hills in Thousand Oaks to just near of the headlands in Malibu, located above the water. Point Dume was the furthest the fire could have reached, any farther and you're in the water. After doing some research, I found that climate change is a principal factor in how much the Woolsey fire burned. Higher temperatures dry out vegetation and soil, creating more wildfire fuel. Climate change also shortens the California rainy season, which means the fire season lasts longer. Santa Ana winds are also affected by climate change, which helps fires move so quickly like Woolsey, destroying everything in its erratic path.

I still feel like my childhood home is still standing, being protected by the tree in my front yard. It's luscious and vibrant green leaves swaying back and forth, causing shadows to twinkle on the grass. Southern California will continue to be affected by the factors of global warming, due to the increase in hot and dry weather conditions that intensify the destructiveness of wildfires.

My heart will always be in Malibu, I am so thankful to have grown up in a such a safe and beautiful community. I keep in mind the effects we are making on the planet as human beings, and how I can individually, reduce my carbon footprint in whatever way that may be. Global warming is affecting our environment and it is affecting us. Every environmentally friendly change you make matters.

I can't wait to go home.

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Working With People Who Are Dying Teaches You So Much About How To Live

Spending time with hospice patients taught me about the art of dying.

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Death is a difficult subject.

It is addressed differently across cultures, lifestyles, and religions, and it can be difficult to find the right words to say when in the company of someone who is dying. I have spent a lot of time working with hospice patients, and I bore witness to the varying degrees of memory loss and cognitive decline that accompany aging and disease.

The patients I worked with had diverse stories and interests, and although we might have had some trouble understanding each other, we found ways to communicate that transcended any typical conversation.

I especially learned a lot from patients severely affected by dementia.

They spoke in riddles, but their emotions were clearly communicated through their facial expressions and general demeanor, which told a story all on their own.

We would connect through smiles and short phrases, yes or no questions, but more often than not, their minds were in another place. Some patients would repeat the details of the same event, over and over, with varying levels of detail each time.

Others would revert to a child-like state, wondering about their parents, about school, and about family and friends they hadn't seen in a long time.

I often wondered why their minds chose to wander to a certain event or time period and leave them stranded there before the end of their life. Was an emotionally salient event reinforcing itself in their memories?

Was their subconscious trying to reconnect with people from their past? All I could do was agree and follow their lead because the last thing I wanted to do was break their pleasant memory.

I felt honored to be able to spend time with them, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was intruding on their final moments, moments that might be better spent with family and loved ones. I didn't know them in their life, so I wondered how they benefited from my presence in their death.

However, after learning that several of the patients I visited didn't have anyone to come to see them, I began to cherish every moment spent, whether it was in laughter or in tears. Several of the patients never remembered me. Each week, I was a new person, and each week they had a different variation of the same story that they needed to tell me.

In a way, it might have made it easier to start fresh every week rather than to grow attached to a person they would soon leave.

Usually, the stories were light-hearted.

They were reliving a memory or experiencing life again as if it were the first time, but as the end draws nearer, a drastic shift in mood and demeanor is evident.

A patient who was once friendly and jolly can quickly become quiet, reflective, and despondent. I've seen patients break down and cry, not because of their current situation, but because they were mourning old ones. These times taught me a lot about how to be just what that person needs towards the end of their life.

I didn't need to understand why they were upset or what they wanted to say.

The somber tone and tired eyes let me know that what they had to say was important and worth hearing. What mattered most is that someone who cared was there to hear it.

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A Few Birthday Thoughts

Goodbye teenage years, hello twenties!

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So, it is looking like I am about to leave my teenage years behind. I think that I want to reflect back on this time in my life and think about what I want to keep with me in my twenties and maybe some things I can let go. My teenage years have been full of love from my family and friends; hard work to make good grades in school and creating art. I developed several great friendships that I have held on to across the miles even though I went to college 14 hours away from our previous home. I am so thankful for the friendships I have made in college as well.

It seems like friends you make in your childhood and younger years can really stand the test of time. Maybe it is because when you became friends you were truly who you were. Everyone was genuine and didn't put up walls to protect themselves. You got to know someone on a deeper more personal level more quickly than if you had met later in life. I also think we laughed even more as children and that always creates good memories to look back on. So I think in my twenties I will try to hang on to the "childish" way of making friends. I will try to show my true self and will accept them for who they are, and we will laugh....a lot.

I think a good thing to let go of is always trying to make dead-end relationships work. When we were children on the playground and we tried to play a game together or jump rope and it just wasn't working, we would run off and find someone else. It was easy. It was just natural. Now sometimes I find myself trying to stay in a relationship by being overly nice, giving gifts, trying to find what pushes the persons "good" buttons. I might spend so much time trying to figure this person out that I leave out more solid relationships that are worth my time. So in my twenties, I will try to be more realistic about who to spend my time on. Some people are just never going to stand the test of time. I can continue to be cordial but won't let them rule my time and thought life.

As children, we loved our parents and siblings and would show love to them in a myriad of ways. Maybe it was hugs, pictures on the fridge, good night kisses, playing games, or just quality time spent together as a family. Starting my twenties, I am mature enough to realize the value of these people in my life. Thankfully, I have always known this. I was never the type that was embarrassed if someone saw me walking with my Mom or Dad or being dropped off in the Mom Van somewhere. I always knew these people loved me more than anyone else I was about to meet. But in my twenties, I plan to keep up with my family even when I am eight hours away from them. We are never too old to need the love of family.

As weird as it is to say goodbye to my teenage years, it's honestly helped me to soak in the precious moments of everyday life and treasure them even more. Every year when birthdays come around, it always serves as a reminder how quickly the days, months, and years fly by. I think that has been one difficult part of this birthday season. It's hard to say goodbye to the past, without a clear map of the future. But, I must remind myself that this is why growing up is a beautiful thing- as we live life and experience new things, we are better prepared for what the future may hold. Everything that I have experienced in my 20 years has served an important purpose- to make me into the person I am supposed to become. Yes, life is always changing and so am I... and change can be hard. Very hard. But one thing to remember is God is always constant. He will never change. No matter what number is on your birthday cake, He is always there...the same God yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is the Rock that we will always be able to cling to. Isn't that a wonderful thought? Even if we don't know what's in His plans for us in the coming year, it's important to make Him a part of our plans. Rather than worry about change, let's embrace it all- the good and the bad- and look to the Lord to see how He will guide and shape us.

Teenage years- the time has come. I must say goodbye to you now. But, you will never be forgotten. I will hold your memories in my heart forever. Twenties- I am excited for all that awaits me.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9

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