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California Wildfires

Blazes Erupt in Southern California, Displacing Thousands

Orange County Fire Authority firefighters defend homes as the Silverado Fire approaches in an Orchard Hills neighborhood on October 26, 2020 in Irvine, California. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Orange County Fire Authority firefighters defend homes as the Silverado Fire approaches in an Orchard Hills neighborhood on October 26, 2020 in Irvine, California. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

More wildfires broke out this week in California, prompting massive evacuations as firefighters worked to get blazes in the southern part of the state under control.

More than 100,000 residents had evacuated in Orange County as of Tuesday as a result of the Silverado Fire, which was burning near the City of Irvine. The fire was less than 5 percent contained at that time, and high winds and low humidity have created ideal conditions for the blaze to spread.

Another fire, the Blue Ridge Fire, was also burning near the San Bernardino and Orange County line.

2020 has proven a catastrophic year for wildfires. More than 5 million acres have burned in the West this year, including in states like Colorado and Oregon. In California alone, 28 active fires are in varying stages of containment.

Direct Relief’s Response

Since July 2020, Direct Relief has provided more than $1.6 million in medical aid in response to wildfires in the western United States. That includes 151 shipments to 59 recipients.

In addition, in response to the Silverado Fires in Orange County, Direct Relief sent out emergency alerts to 18 partner health facilities this week, offering medical aid and emergency medicines, including to the Orange County Office of Emergency Management, Orange County Public Health Department, Orange County Regional Primary Care Association, and California Primary Care Association.

Direct Relief is currently preparing several shipments of requested medical aid for health organizations in Orange County. One of those requests was from Lestonnac Free Clinic in the City of Orange. The clinic is about five miles from the fire, and medical personnel are readying a Direct Relief-funded mobile telemedicine unit for deployment to affected areas, said Cydney Justman, Senior Emergency Response Manager for Direct Relief.

The clinic has requested masks from Direct Relief, and is planning distribution sites at shelters, grocery store parking lots, and other areas where people are gathering. Wildfire can bring about a host of health concerns, including exacerbation of breathing and respiratory issues.

Direct Relief staff load up 30,000 masks and 6 oxygen concentrators on Tuesday for the Lestonnac Free Clinic in Orange County, which is working to treat evacuees impacted by this week's fires. Tuesday's departing shipments also included medical aid and a towable generator for Families Together of Orange County, a health center serving patients in the area.  (Maeve O'Connor/Direct Relief)
Direct Relief staff load up 30,000 masks and 6 oxygen concentrators on Tuesday for the Lestonnac Free Clinic in Orange County, which is working to treat evacuees impacted by this week’s fires. Tuesday’s departing shipments also included medical aid and a towable generator for Families Together of Orange County, a health center serving patients in the area. (Maeve O’Connor/Direct Relief)

Air quality in part of Los Angeles and Orange Counties registered in the “unhealthy” category on Tuesday, meaning that “some members of the general public may experience health effects, and members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects,” according to the U.S. Air Quality Index.

Families Together of Orange County is also serving patients impacted by the fires. The health center has two locations and a mobile unit that they are deploying to shelters serving evacuees, according to Chris Alleway, Emergency Response Specialist for Direct Relief. The group has requested masks, personal care kits, ophthalmic medicines, and backup power, including a portable generator and battery unit for a vaccine fridge.

Thousands are without power across the state, some because of the fires and some from preemptive power shut-offs, which are intended to prevent fires from cropping up. When the power goes off, sometimes health providers face tough choices, depending on their access to back-up options. The choice of whether to power a fridge keeping vaccines and other medicines cool or maintain computer access to medical records is a calculus health providers are being met with more frequently as fires grow larger each year.

Another health challenge presented by wildfires arrives when widespread evacuations are required. Several community centers in Orange County have been established for evacuees, and authorities are working to maintain Covid-19 safety protocols for people there.

In addition to the concerns around the spread of Covid-19, displaced people may often be cut off from a steady supply of medications that allow them to maintain their health. Medications for chronic conditions like diabetes and high-blood pressure may be left behind in the rush to leave home. For patients that depend on these meds, lack of access can necessitate emergency care at precisely the same time when local health systems may already be taxed.

Direct Relief will continue to respond to requests for medical aid as they become known.

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