Sarah from the North Bay writes: “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?”
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 maintains a Disaster Help Center at www.cdss.ca.gov/disaster-help-center. 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 her home (and her 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 been displaced or the business is closed, your friend may need financial assistance for a time. Your friend also could look into the state’s supplemental grant program which may be able to provide assistance.
The DMV is assisting fire victims who need replacement documents from the DMV free of charge. If your friend needs DMV documents, she should reach out to the local field office or call (800) 777-0133. She could also try www.dmv.ca.gov.
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. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline is just one ,and is a 24/7/365 resource for any human caused or natural disaster. The helpline can be reached at (800) 985-5990 or by texting “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
Your friend will also likely need to reach out to 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 at www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/140-catastrophes/WildfireResources.cfm. The website has “evacuation checklists” for policyholders as well as top 10 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 a lot of links is redrover.org. 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; 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 its website at www.countyofnapa.org/389/County-Fire-Department. People affected by the wildfires should check out their county resources.
Cal Fire has a website, www.fire.ca.gov, with information about both federal agencies and local counties.
The California Community Foundation also has a website dedicated to the Northern California Wildfire Relief at https://www.calfund.org/norcal-wildfire-relief.
The federal government also has a website with a lot of links. Your friend can find it at https://www.usa.gov/disaster-financial-help. 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 at www.redcross.org. The Red Cross has hundreds of resources and links for persons 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, she can reassess her property and decide if she has a good defensible space surrounding her home, and can evaluate whether her 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 getting rid of dead vegetation to remove fuel.
I hope your friend gets home soon, and that her home is in good condition. I hope these resources are helpful in the meantime.
Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Megan Irish is a senior associate attorney in our San Francisco office. Email questions and topics for future articles to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We serve clients across the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Our work is no recovery, no free or also referred to as contingency-based. That means we collect no fee unless we obtain money for your damages and injuries.