I had less than 20 minutes to decide what to keep and what to leave behind.
I grabbed a handful of outfits, my phone and laptop, our two dogs, and cat. I realized that I needed to hold onto my passport and birth certificate.
And then, those few minutes were up, and my entire job was getting my family to safety. My mother and I had already loaded up my brother, a quadriplegic living with cerebral palsy and other complications. With his critical medical equipment and the few personal items we had time to grab loaded up, we set out on the evacuation route.
That’s how it all happened a few days ago when my family and I were forced to evacuate Paradise, the town I have called home for the last 13 years. We have been through wildfires before, but nothing like this one. The winds moved the fire so fast that the entire community was caught completely off-guard. Children were in school. People were at work. The mail was running.
Then, it all changed in a matter of minutes. Once we got my brother in the car, we joined a winding caravan of desperate evacuees, eventually making it to safety.
The last few days have been filled with heartbreak. I was there in person as the Butte County Sheriff announced that the fire had taken 42 souls (with more likely to come) and that this wildfire had become the deadliest in California’s history. That experience was one of the most somber moments in my life.
We now know our home was destroyed. We are still are waiting to see a photo of the damage and access if anything can be salvaged. According to media reports, the Town of Paradise has been almost totally destroyed and hundreds of people are still missing.
But the last few days have also been filled with courage and hope. I continue to hear stories of teachers who drove students in their personal vehicles to reunite them with their parents, and hospital staff who risked their lives saving patients. The citizens of Chico, where my family evacuated, have welcomed us with open arms.
All of this, apparently, is lost on President Trump.
While we were looking for a place to stay that was wheelchair-accessible, the President was looking for people to blame, saying some kind of vague “mismanagement” was responsible. At a time when Americans were watching one of the most destructive and horrific natural disasters in history unfold, Donald Trump was tweeting out accusations and threats.
As one of the thousands of Californians who is experiencing a crisis that’s far from over, I have one request: don’t focus on the bad things. Don’t feed into the President’s ignorance and hatred. Instead, pay attention to the incredible stories of humanity and bravery coming out of this tragedy, and all the hard work we still have left to save lives and communities.
You can assist in the recovery efforts today by supporting this local fund: https://www.nvcf.org/fund/camp-fire-evacuation-relief-fund/
Justin D. Meyers is the Treasurer of the Young Democrats of America.