Everyone has heard about the fires in California; however, hearing and understanding are two different things. As with all disasters, it is difficult to put something into perspective when it’s not happening to you. 21 million people were placed under red flag warnings as of November 13. When we read that, we don’t exactly burst into tears. It's a fact to us. Nothing more, nothing less. We are not a part of those 21 million, and neither are our loved ones, so it's hard to see them as anything but a statistic, even if we know they are real people. As a country, we are struggling to find sensitivity within ourselves and are forsaking our fellow citizens when they need us most.
We’ve all seen the videos. They’re everywhere, and impossible to ignore, but a simple video can never do its subject justice. It is impossible to obtain an accurate sense of the magnitude of this catastrophe from a series of frames. Imagine yourself stuck in the middle of California. That is your home burning, your family dying, and your neighbors and friends losing everything. You have nothing left. Forget things like video games, social media or sleeping, because your home is nothing but a pile of charcoal. You don’t even have a place to go, let alone something as simple as a fork to eat with. You may not even have food. It really sucks, doesn’t it? More than anything, you need help. You need a place to go, food to eat, and you’d kill for so much as a blanket or cot to sleep on. You just need people to understand, but they don’t. Instead, you are forgotten.
Our society is even beginning to cross the line into negligence in light of such events. The comment President Donald Trump made on November 10 portrays this mentality perfectly.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” said Trump via twitter. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments.”
When this was said, seven firefighters were battling to save other people's houses while their own homes burned to the ground. Trump, like many of us, overlooks the fact that these are real people; they’re not a story or a business deal. There were 88 confirmed dead between the three fires, and 203 still missing. There is always time to fix things, but the people who lost everything in California, and in disasters all over the world, don’t need that right now. They need help; not acknowledgment, and definitely not criticism. They need sensitivity.
From there, we cross the line between negligence and taking advantage of dire situations. People in California are coming back to their homes to find they have nothing left, and it's not the fire at fault. In the movies, the first thing we see after the initial wave is looting. California is no different, as miscreants rob and pillage abandoned houses. How can we condone such infringement and plunder? These people have already suffered enough. How can we still find it within ourselves to make it worse for them?
This numbness isn’t just specific to California. We see it with every tragedy and every disaster. We need to find the sympathy within ourselves to help these people, just as they would help us. Some have already taken the initiative.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff raised $1.1 million to fund relief programs in the aftermath of the fires. This is similar to Texans star JJ Watt’s fundraiser in 2017 that raised $41.6 million to aid recovery after hurricane Harvey.
It’s not like we can make the fires go away with a snap of our fingers, but if everyone in the United States donated a single dollar, that’s 325.7 million. Imagine the impact that kind of money would have. Imagine the recovery that could take place, and the livelihood that could be restored to these communities. This is the help that people need, not the destruction that they don’t. We can’t let our sensitivity burn with California.