Daily Egyptian

SIU student from California asks for donations for those affected by ongoing wildfires

Fire+burns+back+down+the+hill+behind+East+Valley+Road+by+Ladera+Lane+near+Toro+Canyon+at+dusk+on+Tuesday%2C+Dec.+12%2C+2017+in+Montecito%2C+Calif.+The+Thomas+fire+continues+to+burn+in+the+upper+reaches+of+Ventura+County+and+in+the+mountains+behind+Carpinteria+and+Montecito+in+Santa+Barbara+County+with+fairly+calm+winds.+%28Al+Seib%2FLos+Angeles+Times%2FTNS%29
Fire burns back down the hill behind East Valley Road by Ladera Lane near Toro Canyon at dusk on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 in Montecito, Calif. The Thomas fire continues to burn in the upper reaches of Ventura County and in the mountains behind Carpinteria and Montecito in Santa Barbara County with fairly calm winds. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Fire burns back down the hill behind East Valley Road by Ladera Lane near Toro Canyon at dusk on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 in Montecito, Calif. The Thomas fire continues to burn in the upper reaches of Ventura County and in the mountains behind Carpinteria and Montecito in Santa Barbara County with fairly calm winds. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times

Fire burns back down the hill behind East Valley Road by Ladera Lane near Toro Canyon at dusk on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 in Montecito, Calif. The Thomas fire continues to burn in the upper reaches of Ventura County and in the mountains behind Carpinteria and Montecito in Santa Barbara County with fairly calm winds. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)


When Alex Morgan answered the phone at 2 a.m. one day last week, she heard her mother back home in Ventura, Calif., crying hysterically.

Janeanne Morgan was grabbing what belongings she could as she prepared to evacuate their home in the face of a fast-moving wildfire.

“When she got on the freeway heading towards Oxnard, the whole entire hillside was in engulfed in flames,” Morgan said. “My mom was hysterically crying and said she had never seen anything like it before, and it looks like hell on Earth.”

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Alex Morgan, a senior studying rehabilitation counseling who graduates in December, said she turned on a scanner to follow the fire’s progress and try to learn whether their home was safe.

Within a week the fire has cover about 234,200 acres, destroyed 794 structures and damaged 187, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire protection.

The Thomas fire, as it is known, is now the fifth-largest wildfire in modern California history. The fire is one of four in southern California still burning today.

That night, Morgan’s mom worked for 12 hours at St. John’s Regional Medical Center, where she is an incident emergency manager. Morgan said her mom has been hard at work helping volunteers and evacuees.

Provided photo from Alex Morgan.

Morgan said she has been unable to eat or sleep as well as feeling helpless.

“The past few days have probably been the hardest of my life,” Morgan said. “Since the beginning of the semester I have counted down the days until I have been able to go home and celebrate my graduation and Christmas with my family, to not knowing if I had a home to go home to.”

While dealing with this crisis, Morgan has continued her studies in rehabilitation counseling and her commitments as a discus thrower on the track and field team.

Morgan soon found out when her mom was able to return to their home in Ventura, which was still standing, but others in the surrounding area had not been so lucky.

“If the winds didn’t shift her home would have been lost,” Morgan said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire said gusty Santa Ana winds continued to push the fire west and north while low humidity and high temperature fuel fire growth.

The Thomas Fire continued moving north and toward the coast into Santa Barbara County.

Marti Kallal, an SIU and a former university employee of 17 years, said the Thomas Fire has hugely affected the Goleta and Santa Barbara area.

Kallal said the fire, which started on Monday Dec. 4, had already affected air quality in Santa Barbara County by Tuesday morning. By Thursday morning, Kallal said all schools in the Santa Barbara area had been closed.

Alia Ajina, a sophomore at the University of California Santa Barbara said finals were postponed to the first week of the university’s winter quarter because of hazardous air quality.

“People wanted to leave so bad because the fire was getting so close and the air quality was so bad,” Ajina said. “It looked like an apocalypse.”

Kallal said community organizations and businesses have been handing out air masks to residents, who can’t go outside without masks.

The Thomas fire will continue to threaten the communities of Carpinteria, Summerland, and Montecito, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire.

Provided photo from Alex Morgan.

Morgan said her childhood home in Ondulando was destroyed by the fire, as were other homes in the neighborhood.

Friends from the Ondulando area have been sharing their thoughts on the destruction of homes and emphasizing that a home is a physical structure but memories will last forever, Morgan said.

“It has made me realize materials and things that we own really don’t mean anything to us,” Morgan said. “However, the value of family, friends and their safety is what means the most.”

Morgan said she takes pride in how much her community has bonded together and supported each other during this time of devastation.

Kallal said she has experienced the resilience of these communities. Being community-minded will help to rebuild the devastated areas, she said.

“People really want to help,” Kallal said. “As much as there is going on in the world and in this country right now that would seem to imply otherwise, people do care about each other. They really do.”

Various charity organizations and fundraisers online have been started to help those affected by the wildfires in California. Morgan said she hopes people in southern Illinois and elsewhere can help those affected by donating.

“I haven’t been able to eat or sleep, I have just felt so helpless because I can’t help my community,” Morgan said.

Those in the community who wish to help can donate to Thomas Fire Victims by: texting UWVC to 41444, going online to www.vcunitedway.org, or by calling 805-485-6288.

Checks may be sent to the United Way office at 702 County Square Dr., Suite 100, Ventura, CA 93003. If checks are mailed, include “Thomas Fire Fund” in the memo.

Morgan said she plans to go back to Ventura to spend Christmas with her family and help those in need.

Despite tragedy there is always something to be thankful for,” Morgan said. “Whether that be the safety of yourself, of your family, friends, animals or just being able to help others in this situation is what you can be thankful for.”

Editor-in-chief Athena Chrysanthou can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Chrysant1Athena. 

Staff writer Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely.

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