MAGIC VALLEY — According to The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the series of ongoing wildfires burning throughout California has destroyed over 2,000 structures. A total of over 7,000 fires have burned more than a million acres of land, making it the second-largest wildfire season in California history.
The Idaho Red Cross recently sent 16 volunteers to California to help families displaced by the fires.
For one volunteer, Paul Ayers, being deployed by the Idaho Red Cross, is nothing new to him. This is his fourth deployment, but his first one during a pandemic.
"COVID-19 has, of course, thrown a huge monkey wrench into any of these operations. Things that we used to do in-person like spiritual care or mental health counseling is done virtually now versus sitting next to somebody and talking with them," Ayers said.
Ayers describes his responsibilities in California as "life-safety and asset protection," which means he worked with the 14 Red Cross shelters in his district to make sure the people they were helping were in a safe environment, and these shelters had the proper amenities.
"It's very tough to see these people try to put their lives back together and move forward. The generosity of people who help them has been overwhelming. It's been a painful experience, but it's been a very good experience to be here," Ayers said.
The last time Ayers was in California with the Redcross was during the Paradise Campfire in 2018. The Paradise fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California History that burned more than 150,000 acres.
"I can't say it's a good feeling because it's unfortunate to see what people go through. But you appreciate that you can provide some comfort to people, and hopefully whatever you provide them helps them get back on their feet and move forward," Ayers said.
Ayers deployed to California last week and will spend two weeks there continuing to help families find shelter. At the end of the two weeks, he can extend his time to continue to help people affected by the wildfires.
"It's unfortunate to see what people go through. It just makes us appreciate the things that we have more," Ayers said.
To help families affected by the wildfires in California, you can donate to the Red Cross.