Things That Matter

As Wildfires Continue To Spread Across California Many Latino Workers Are Caught In The Midst Of Danger

It seems that it has become increasingly common for dangerous wildfires to spread throughout both northern and southern California this time of year. In the last few years, the state has seen massive blazes that have taken lives and have even destroyed communities. This year is no different as California is currently facing multiple fires across the state.

Most notably, the Kincade fire in wine country north of San Francisco, that has burned through more than 73,000 acres, and the Getty Fire that has consumed over 600 acres on a hillside in West Los Angeles. This has caused massive evacuations in communities across the state and has left many wondering about their homes, loved ones and the safety of others. Over the weekend, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency as multiple high-intensity fires, including the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County and the Tick Fire in the Santa Clarita area, destroyed many homes and displaced tens of thousands of Californians. 

What may be forgotten throughout all this is the effect that these natural disasters have on communities of color that both live and work in the affected areas.

Credit: @VotoLatino / Twitter

In Southern California, the Getty Fire has affected neighborhoods near West LA like Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. The city has put out calls for immediate evacuations but for some house workers, they never got that memo from their bosses when they showed up to work on Monday. Many can’t afford to miss work due to financial constraints and fears that if they didn’t show they could be fired.  

“I met Carmen Solano when I spotted her taxi pulling up into a driveway. I’d just seen homes on fire a street over and immediately wondered why she was arriving instead of leaving. Turns out she was a housekeeper and had no idea the area was under mandatory evacuation,” Britney Mejia, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times wrote in a tweet. 

Other workers like Solano, who doesn’t drive or speak English, showed up to work on Monday and were immediately met with police officers telling them to leave the area immediately due to the nearby fires. Marcela Aquino was on her way to her house cleaning job but was unaware of the nearby Getty fire when she left home that morning. By the time she got to her boss’s house he had called her to say he had already evacuated. 

Even after workers were told to go back and return home, the first thing at the top of their minds was the potentially lost wages that could be missed for not working. 

Credit: @brittny_mejia / Twitter

For many, missing a day of work is the difference between bringing food on the table or missing out on paying that month’s rent. Aquino attempted multiple calls to reach her boss but there was no answer. 

“I don’t want to miss work,” Aquino told Mejia. “They already gave me a week off. They didn’t tell us. They need to tell us not to come.”

Gardeners were still tending to yards while evacuations were underway but were met with LAPD officers that were telling them to leave the area. The gardeners were weary leaving their jobs even with a nearby wildfire. 

“No sir, you can’t finish your yard. You’ve got to go,” the officer said, according to the LA Times. “I saw their determination to finish the job.”

In northern California, the Kincade Fire is currently burning through Sonoma County impacting] many migrant communities. According to a Sonoma County Farmworker Health Survey published four years ago this month, it found that 95 percent of the county’s farmworkers reported being Latino or Hispanic.

Credit: @NorCalGrant / Twitter

Things haven’t been much better in northern California where many agricultural workers, predominately Latino, have had to leave their job sites due to dangerous conditions. Making matters worse is how fast these fires have spread in a matter of days leaving some worried about losing their homes as well as their jobs. 

In an attempt to help these families, the San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation has kicked off it’s NorCal Wildfire Relief Fund to help some North Bay farmworkers that have been caught in this disaster. In 2017, the same relief raised $1.5 million when people couldn’t work because of wildfires affecting the North Bay. 

“The Kincade Fire has hit during harvest season in Wine Country — a critical time for our farmworker communities. The fire is displacing these hard working families and destroying homes and jobs. Several of our community partners are working overnight to shelter these families who have nowhere else to turn. We want to do everything in our power to support them and remind them that they are not alone,” Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO of Latino Community Foundation, said in a press release. “More than 70% of our vineyard workers are Latinos and immigrants, and they are the most vulnerable in these times of crisis.

California inmates, which are 70 percent are Black and brown, are also doing their part on the frontlines taking down fires. 

Credit: @VotoLatino / Twitter

California inmates located in Northern California are also assisting with rescue efforts. Almost 20 percent of the roughly 17,000 individuals assigned to fires in peak season were California inmates in 2018.

“Reminder that thousands of inmates in California are putting out wildfires for $2 dollars a day (plus an additional $1/hr when they’re fighting active fires). Almost 70% of the CA inmate population is Black and Brown,” tweeted Voto Latino.

We are all praying and hoping all these lives are safe and sound. To make a contribution to the Norcal Wildfire Relief Fund, click here. 

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