School offers aid to North Bay wildfire victims

October 18, 2017 — by Anishi Patel and Ananya Vadlakonda

Many students have been wearing masks lately to protect from the pollution caused by the North Bay wildfires.

On the morning of Oct. 9, roughly 17 wildfires ripped across huge swaths of land in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Solano, Butte and Mendocino counties, scorching over 213,000 acres of land and leaving at least 41 people dead.

Now recognized as one of the worst wildfire outbreaks in state history, the North Bay fires have upended many lives. At least 5,700 structures have been burned to their foundations, and tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes.

To help the evacuees, the Leadership class held a donation drive on Oct. 11-12. The goal was to collect as many basic necessities as possible, such as clothing, canned foods, water, toiletries, blankets and school supplies.

ASB president Nathon Chin was ecstatic at the response.

“We got a massive amount of supplies,” Chin said. “[The fundraiser] greatly exceeded my expectations.”

Donations were received from not only SHS families, but other members of the Saratoga community as well.

According to Leadership teacher Matt Torrens, about 50 gallons of water, 50 bags of clothes and 40 cases of canned goods, along with other supplies, were collected from the dozens who donated.

The donated items were enough to pack a 1,960-cubic-foot truck to the ceiling, and then some, he said.

In fact, there were so many supplies to sort through and pack that English teacher Natasha Ritchie brought her whole English 11 Honors class down to help load the truck.  

“I grew up in the Napa Valley so it’s near and dear to my heart,” Ritchie said. “I figured many hands make light work.”

On Oct. 10, Torrens drove the first truckload of supplies to a staging ground at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, where relief agencies were collecting donations for evacuation centers in Santa Rosa. The next day, members of the Leadership class delivered the remaining items to another staging ground in Redwood City, where the items were then transferred to an evacuation center at Napa Valley College.

Volunteers at the Sonoma County evacuation center were shocked at the full truckload of supplies from SHS, since the fires had begun barely two days earlier. They asked, “Where did all this come from?”

Torrens’ response of “Saratoga High School” was received by puzzled faces, but after learning of SHS’s location, the volunteers told Torrens, “We’ll never forget.”

This disaster has hit home here at the school, too. Several Saratoga residents or staff members have family or friends who have been affected by the fires. Journalism teacher Mike Tyler said his in-laws and brother- and sister-in-law all own houses in Sonoma County that were affected.

Tyler’s brother- and sister-in-law, like many others affected by the fires, had only minutes to evacuate after the first fire warning at 2 a.m. on Oct. 9. When they returned later that day, they found that their house was one of dozens of homes that had burned to the ground by the Tubbs fire that swept through their neighborhood in Santa Rosa. Like thousands of others there, they will be forced to rebuild in the next few years.

Tyler’s mother- and father-in-law, on the other hand, were out of town at the time of the fires, but were certain that their house had burned down following the release of maps showing the path of the Nuns fire.

After waiting five long days for any information, the family finally received details about their house on Oct. 13. The fire had destroyed dozens of homes near their 7-acre rural property in the Kenwood hills, but their own house was left miraculously untouched, even though it burned much of the vegetation right up to their house.

“The odds weren’t good; it was a long shot that the house was going to survive given [how close] the fire was,” Tyler said. “It was truly a miracle.”

The Leadership class, through the fundraising efforts, hopes to help affected families, many of whom evacuated their houses with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

Although the fires are taking place up in the North Bay, residents all over the Bay Area have been able to observe its effects. A layer of ash and smog blew into Saratoga in the days following the North Bay fires, blanketing the school and city in a gray haze. It was severe enough that all outdoor sports practices were canceled for three days.

The varsity football team had a game at Los Altos planned for Oct. 13, which was later rescheduled for Nov. 9. The JV football team also had a game against Los Altos scheduled for Oct. 13, but the JV game was canceled.

“The JV team’s bummed because we were really looking forward to this game,” sophomore Nakul Nagaraj said. “It was supposed to be an easy win for us.”

Sports teams will be working hard to make up for lost time. Other teams, like girls’ volleyball and girls’ and boys’ water polo, have also missed games and practices due to the air pollution.

“While [the missed practices and games] don’t seem like a lot now, you’ll start to see it, since students are competing a lot at a high level,” athletic director Tim Lugo said.

In addition to the sports teams on campus, the marching band was affected as well. Their first competition, scheduled for Oct. 14 in Cupertino, was canceled due to the outdoor air conditions.

Considering the amount of air pollution in and around Saratoga, it is hard to imagine the catastrophic conditions the North Bay is dealing with.

“You take my family situation and you multiply it by thousands and you have some idea of what’s happening in the North Bay,” Tyler said. “For Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and Napa County, it will be life before the fire and life after the fire. The press will leave and the cameras will go away eventually, but people up there are going to be dealing with this for years.”

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