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California natives cope with fires

The largest wildfires in national history have taken an added toll on “U” students with family in California.

Over the past week, students from California have felt the heat of wildfires thousands of miles away.

The California wildfires have destroyed almost 500,000 acres and about 1,800 structures – causing almost $1 billion in damages, according to Sunday statistics.

Students who chose to come to Minnesota for college have helplessly fretted about their families, friends and communities while the fires spread.

Ceci Galinato, a nursing sophomore from San Diego, said she struggled to stay focused on school this week. She said she had trouble juggling the need to study for her two midterms, keep in touch with her loved ones and follow coverage of the wildfire.

“I was kind of freaking out about it,” Galinato said. “I was a mess.”

Galinato said the area around her family’s neighborhood had to evacuate but they were able to stay at home. The fires entered her community, forcing a long-time friend to evacuate and destroying her childhood school, she said.

She said she was frustrated when she talked to people on campus about the fires because they couldn’t relate to the experience.

“All you can do is pray,” she said.

Galinato said she experienced wildfires that threatened her community in the past. She’s seen the entire sky turn orange as a wildfire approached her city.

She said she and some friends once drove to the scene of a fire after it was extinguished and it was like a wasteland, but the most powerful effect was the smoke. The group tried to breathe through a cloth but it didn’t help, she said.

Rob Johnstone, a University alumnus, now works in Santa Monica, Calif.

He said even if the flames don’t impact people, the smoke does. Poor air quality has caused people in the metropolitan area to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activity all week.

He said when the fires began the smoke plumes were easily visible from 30 miles away, hiding the end of an entire mountainside.

Jeremy Bispo, a journalism sophomore from Pacific Grove, Calif., has friends and family near the wildfires in San Diego. He said the area has to deal with fires every year and they are nothing new.

“It’s interesting. Coming from California, the first thing people talk about is the earthquakes but in Southern California, the fires are much more dangerous,” Bispo said.

Michael Carlson, a violin performance first-year from California, said he was surprised the fires got so out of control.

He said his house has almost burned down from wildfires a few times and would like to see more money from the government devoted to dealing with, preventing and researching wildfires.

Twin Cities organizations have been working to send aid to the fire-ravaged areas.

Ted Canova, communications director at the local Red Cross, said they will have 16 volunteers and two vehicles on the scene by Monday. Statewide, the Red Cross has sent almost 60 volunteers.

Annette Bauer, public relations director at the Salvation Army, said they have been sending money for recovery efforts and might send volunteers in the weeks to come.

She said the Salvation Army would welcome any students who would like to volunteer in the future and they can specialize in relief related to their majors.

Volunteers typically commit for two weeks, but the Salvation Army will be caring for those impacted by the fires for months. She said natural disasters have devastating effects on people that change their lives.

“We still have people facing the effects of the floods in (Minnesota) in 1997,” Bauer said. “I guarantee you will never have the life you had before back.”

The California wildfires may be one of the largest-ever recorded nationally. They dwarf the wildfires that ran through northern Minnesota this summer.

The Ham Lake wildfires in Minnesota burned more than 75,000 acres and destroyed about 140 structures, according to a Department of Natural Resources news release.

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