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Wildfires destroy land and break hearts in and out of California state lines

Dealing with the effects of of the fires from hundreds of miles away

Zoe Bodovinitz, Staff Reporter
Originally published November 21, 2017

In early October, almost every news outlet was covering the wildfires in California. Every time I turned on the news there were different stories of devastation all throughout the state. I felt awful for those Californians having their homes and memories burn down around them, but my life went on. It wasn’t until I heard the report of two more lives taken by the fire that I felt the effects of this burning anomaly.

On Oct. 8, the fire that ripped through Napa Valley reached the home of my great uncle and aunt, Charles and Sara Rippey. Charles, better known by the nickname Peach, had just turned 100-years-old in July and his wife of 75 years was 98. Their live-in nurse was there that night. The fire engulfed the house so fast she was barely able to escape before the roof came crashing down, unable to save either of them.

The Rippey’s story captured the hearts of the rest of the country. Newspapers, social medias and websites in many different states were covering the loss of the two beloved people. They became the faces of the fires. As the rest of the country met them for the first time, my family was saying goodbye.

I had just been to Napa in July to celebrate Peach’s milestone birthday with the rest of the Rippey family. We never could have imagined that only three months later we would be mourning the loss of two of our own.

When natural disasters of this magnitude occur, it seems like it’s all our country cares about for a week or so. Then life returns to how it was before and people don’t think about it again until the one-year anniversary rolls around. That’s how it’s always been for me, but this time is very different.

The people in California who lost homes and are forced to rebuild their lives will still be feeling the effects of these fires long after the rest of the country moves on. This time I’m feeling some of that same pain. In Seattle, 644 miles from Napa, I’m personally trying to cope with the tragedies that the fires caused. My family is suffering with the fact that this natural disaster all the way in another state stole the lives of our relatives.

Being outside of California and still feeling this personal sadness because of the fires gave me a different perspective. I get emails from Twitter daily telling me what’s been trending that day, and the real grief hit me when I received one with a photo of my great aunt and uncle at the top paired with strangers tweeting how sorry they were for the couple’s family.

Never again will I brush aside a catastrophe like the California fires now that I understand that not only the people directly involved, but also people from different cities, states and even countries endure the pain caused by these horrors.

Aside from the immense amount of grief my family and I feel, I have learned through this terrible experience to always have empathy. We should all practice more empathy. Not only when tragedy strikes but everyday of our lives. This could have happened to any other family, it just happened to be mine and because of that I’m going to try to make myself a better person. I know that instead of dwelling in the sadness that we all feel now, Uncle Peach and Aunt Sara would want me and the rest of our family to look on to brighter days.

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Wildfires destroy land and break hearts in and out of California state lines