Written By: Megan Irish and Christopher B. Dolan
Sarah from the North Bay writes:
Q: “I just heard on the news that my friend’s neighborhood was evacuated for the fires, what can I do to help her, what are the resources available?”
A: Dear Sarah,
I’m so sorry to hear your friend was evacuated. There are a lot of resources; let me point out a few to get your friend started:
California Department of Social Services
California maintains a Disaster Help Center online. This site has resource guides, both in English and Spanish. They have links for CalWORKS, which is an assistance program for families with children in the home, and CalFresh, which helps with funds for food. If your friend was already receiving these benefits and had to abandon their home (and their pantry), there are resources for, “replacement,” benefits, too. If your friend doesn’t think she normally would qualify for the benefits, she should still check it out. There are special circumstances when disasters happen, and families who may not typically receive benefits could qualify for assistance for a short time during the disaster period. There are also resources for housing administered by the local county if your friend needs a place to stay. Additionally, you can find a link to unemployment services there. Since many folks are displaced from their work in these fires, or perhaps their employer has themselves displaced or the business is closed, your friend may need financial assistance for a time. Your friend also could look into California’s State Supplemental Program (SSGP), which may be able to provide assistance.
California Department of Motor Vehicles
The DMV is assisting fire victims who need replacement documents from the DMV free of charge. If your friend needs DMV documents, they should reach out to the local field office, call 1-800-777-0133, or online. Being evacuated can be a really stressful time. If your friend is experiencing any emotional distress, and needs to talk to a professional, there are counseling services available. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a Disaster Distress Helpline that provides 24/7,365 resource available for any human caused or natural disaster. The helpline can be reached at 1-800-985-5990 or text TALKWITHUS to the number 66746.
California Department of Insurance
Your friend will also likely need to reach out to his or her insurance providers. A good resource is the California Department of Insurance; it has a guide to expedite the recovery process. It can be found here. The website has “evacuation checklists” for policyholders, as well as top ten tips for claimants, and insurance company contact lists. There are also links for in-person help centers, called “Local Assistance Centers” which are typically located in the heavily affected counties. Right now, there are centers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Solano. There is also a link to success stories. In your friend’s time of turmoil seeing that there are so many resources available may be reassuring.
If your friend has pets, there are other resources available throughout the State, too. A good resource with numerous links is Red Rover. It groups resources geographically throughout the state. This site also has resources for first responders who may need help caring for their pets while they are working, plus, it even has a financial assistance link for families who need help getting their pets veterinary care.
Most counties’ websites will be a primary resource for people evacuated like your friend. For example, Napa County has an assessment map, evacuation map and live cameras (showing vistas all over the state) on their website. People affected by the wildfires should check out their county resources.
Cal Fire has a site with information about both federal agencies and local counties. The California Community Foundation also has a website dedicated to the Northern California Wildfire Relief. The federal government also has a website with a lot of links. Your friend can find it here. The federal site has links for mortgage and rental relief as well as help with food and bills.
Finally, there is the National Red Cross. The Red Cross has hundreds of resources and links for people affected by the wildfires, and an app that can be downloaded for smartphones. The Red Cross also has resources on how to prevent fires. When your friend gets home, they can reassess their property and decide if they have a good defensible space surrounding their home, and they can evaluate whether their plant choices are fire resistant. The site includes suggestions on spacing out plants so fire won’t jump between them, as well pruning trees, mowing grass and removing any dead vegetation to remove fuel.
I hope your friend gets home soon, and that their home is in good condition. I hope these resources are helpful in the meantime.