As California experienced some of the worst wildfires in the state’s history, CSEA members worked tirelessly to help in many ways.
The Carr fire burned 211,000 acres in north central California and the Ferguson fire burned 97,000 acres in the Sierras in mid-July. By the middle of August, the Holy fires had burned more than 23,000 acres in the Lake Elsinore/Corona areas, and the Mendocino Complex fires had become the largest fires in California’s history, scorching more than 365,000 acres in Mendocino, Lake, Glenn and Colusa counties.
In these and other wildfires up and down the state, CSEA members and staff worked to ensure their coworkers, students and neighbors were safe and had enough emergency supplies. As the fires came under control, our members and staff looked for affected members to provide financial help from CSEA’s Assistance Fund.
In Lake County, CSEA members working at local schools and in surrounding areas helped with evacuations. Drivers from Ukiah Valley Unified Chapter 194 transported evacuees out of the path of danger in school buses. Office, food service and maintenance workers who are members of Konocti Chapter 12 provided services to fire victims.
Kelseyville Chapter 638 President Patricia McGrath said classified employees volunteered their time to prepare space at the three Kelseyville schools converted into evacuation centers. She said the number of people willing to help during the devastating time was remarkable.
“We really pulled together as a community during this,” she said. “There was a call for assistance at 11 p.m. and more than enough people showed up to help.”
Members suffered some losses because the power went out and the heat damaged structures, but amazingly, no one lost their home. McGrath said the blaze was a sight to behold and that the effects still lingered a week later.
“It was very smoky and still is very smoky, so the air quality is really bad,” she said. “When the fire was going on, the sun looked bright orange red. It’s just devastating when this happens year after year.”
Meanwhile in Lake Elsinore, the start of the school year was pushed back by seven days because of the wildfires there. Maggie Portales, treasurer for Lake Elsinore Chapter 598 said she, along with fellow members Lorraine Braff Berame, Karen Capobianco, Claudia Bojorquez and Laura Mendoza-Galicia gathered supplies for the first responders fighting the blaze in their area.
“We contacted dentists who donated toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss,” she said. “We got a bunch of cases of necessary items.”
Berame added that they collected cash donations from fellow members and other Lake Elsinore Unified employees to buy supplies for firefighters and evacuees.
“Our CSEA employees are amazing because they reached into their pockets and gave what they could,” she said. “Between them and the superintendent’s cabinet, we raised $500 in a couple hours. We went to Costco and bought a couple hundred pairs of socks, hand sanitizer, eyewash, bandages and other important things.”
The Lake Elsinore community’s support for first responders was overwhelming. Bojorquez said there was more than enough food for firefighters and other emergency personnel, thanks to individuals and local businesses. However, she said people aren’t always aware of the other needs of emergency personnel, and that’s why she and her coworkers purchased those supplies.
“I was grateful to the first responders so I was happy we were able to do something for them,” she said.
Chapter 598 volunteers also purchased supplies for the evacuated families and were gathering even more supplies for the families who suffered losses after the fire had been contained. “The families lost their food since the power was out and now we’re also trying to get school supplies,” Copabianco said.
“In any emergency or crisis that happens in our state, you will always see CSEA members stepping up to help,” he said. CSEA members also help fellow members in need by donating to the Dorothy Bjork Assistance Fund, which includes the Emergency Assistance Fund that provides up to $1,000 to members impacted by natural disasters such as the recent wildfires.
The Dorothy Bjork Fund subsists solely on the generous donations of CSEA members. To be eligible for any of these programs you must be a CSEA member in good standing or a CSEA staff employee in paid status. Learn more about emergency assistance and CSEA's Humanitarian Assistance Fund.
CSEA members who have been impacted can apply for up to $1,000 in emergency assistance. Call CSEA Member Benefits at 1-866-ITS-CSEA (487-2732) or visit csea.com/bjork for applications and forms.
CSEA takes care of its members on the job, but it also lends a helping hand in times of crisis. The Dorothy Bjork Assistance Fund provides financial relief to members in need. The Dorothy Bjork Assistance Fund, which subsists solely on the generous donations of CSEA members, is disbursed through two different programs: the Emergency Assistance Program and the Humanitarian Assistance Program. To be eligible for any of these programs you must be a CSEA member in good standing or a CSEA staff employee in paid status.