Guest Column: Community resilience and a culture of preparedness

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Our community has been devastated by the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, which started when fire tore through the hills west of town on the night of Tuesday, Aug. 18.

As of this writing (Monday morning), the LNU Lightning Complex Fire has burned 350,030 acres and is 22 percent contained. Cal FIRE reports 871 structures confirmed destroyed, 234 structures damaged, and 30,500 structures threatened. Four people have perished, and four people have been injured. Tens of thousands of people are evacuated.

It is the second largest wildfire in California history. It is approximately half the size of Rhode Island. And it is not yet out.

The losses over the past week have been staggering. People have lost homes, pets, livestock, treasured possessions, vehicles, land, neighborhoods, livelihoods, and lives. Others evacuated or prepared for evacuation and contemplated the exact losses some of their friends and family members are now experiencing.

It has been a terrifying week. There have been some very real frustrations. Theres been a lot of uncertainty, and a great deal of grief.

Our community has also taken steps to support the people most affected by the fire.

Less than 48 hours after the fire hit, the City of Winters, Winters Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Winters and several local businesses established a Greater Winters Fire Relief Fund, collecting cash, check and gift card donations that will be distributed to community members harmed by the fire. Donation points include Pacific Ace Hardware, the Buckhorn Steakhouse and First Northern Bank.

Winters Parent Nursery School started a clothing and toiletry drive, and Farmers Closet kicked off a clothing drive. The Buckhorn has free meals for fire victims, and Yolo Food Bank has delivered non-perishable goods. Hotel Winters is housing people at discounted rates.

These efforts illustrate Wintersstrong community spirit, our resourcefulness, our small-town connectivity, and our can-do attitude. We have a thing for resilience.

Were the town that raised a pile of cash in the middle of the Great Recession to fund our community center and swimming pool. Were the town that built a marvel of a playground, and rebuilt it a generation later. Were the town that threw a party to raise a five-figure donation to help people who lost everything in Paradises Camp Fire.

We can be the town that figures out how to support the members of our community stricken by this summers fires –– even though we have to do this during a pandemic that does not allow us to gather together and that has tanked the economy. We are off to a very good start.

In addition to our initial generosity, we will need to figure out how to support people into the future.

There will be more fires, perhaps this year, and this one is not yet out. If we want to be a resilient community, we need to develop a culture of preparedness. While rural Winters is well practiced at evacuating, people in Winters proper are not.

Now is a good time to pack your go bag, start neighborhood-scale discussions about preparedness and evacuation, and make sure that when an evacuation order comes, everyone is safe, including seniors, people with access and functional needs, people without transportation and people for whom English is a second language.

Now is the time to make sure that gutters are clean, attic vents have mesh fine enough to block blowing embers, and landscaping emphasizes fire-smart plants.

Now is the time to register for emergency alerts from Yolo Alert and Alert Solano, even as we work on improving the alert system. The emergency preparedness and evacuation planning subcommittee of the Yolo County Commission on Aging and Adult Services will conclude a year-long project on Sept. 1 by making recommendations to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. The Winters Senior Commission on Aging is also considering disaster preparedness.

This fire has ripped at a lot of hearts, and torn at our community. As we move into a time of supporting, of mending, and of increased resilience, we will be strongest if we work together.

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