In late 2018, California was on fire again. Campfires sprung up and devastated Butte County in Northern California.
It was the deadliest fire in California history and caused mass evacuations. One town where people evacuated to was Sutter, California, a town bordering Butte County and the hometown of Nebraska freshman rifle athlete Madelynn Erickson.
“During that time, there were a lot of people from [Sutter] that were helping build [Butte County] back up,” Erickson said. “My cousin, she got over 100 backpacks for little kids since the schools and all that burned down.”
Unfortunately for Californians like Erickson, wildfires of this nature have become all too common over the last few years.
The 2020 California fires have broken the record for the most land burnt within the state in a single year, according to the California Fire and Forestry Department. California’s dry climate makes it a breeding ground for fires of this nature, and one spark to the matchbox can set the state ablaze.
On the West Coast, that has turned into a reality and Erickson isn’t the only Husker who shares the feeling that these fires have become a part of life.
“When [others] ask me about the [fires], I guess I tell them that it’s not a surprise to me,” sophomore men’s tennis player and Newport Beach, California native Andre Saleh said. “When you think of California, you think of California beaches and California sunshine. There’s more to what meets the eye of the typical stereotype of California.”
Saleh is one of 32 Husker student-athletes who are from California, the state hit hardest by the fires. Those fires were something that he grew up with like other local Californians, but Saleh says this year has been the worst in his lifetime.
In a year with as much chaos as 2020, West Coast fires have been almost a footnote given everything else going on. In Nebraska, halfway across the country, the fires might as well have been a different part of the world.
In the Cornhusker state, the effects of the fires caused the sun to appear blood orange back in early September. Erickson and Saleh were now balancing school, sports and trying to keep up with the news back home.
According to Erickson, she found it difficult to stay updated about home while competing and studying. This difficulty was also expressed by Fresno native and sophomore soccer player Adriana Maldonado, who felt like she couldn’t do anything.
“It’s like a helpless feeling, you hear your friends and family going through these things back home,” Maldonado said. “You have no control or even there’s no way of helping them. The most you can do is call them and say I love you.”
Those feelings were shared with Saleh and Erickson, who were trying to still be there for family and friends back home despite being over 1,000 miles away. They said the best way to stay supportive and keep in touch with those back home is through texts or phone calls.
Fresno, which is in the middle of California, hasn’t faced any evacuations. However, there is still plenty of loss.
One such loss is damage to Yosemite National Park, one of America’s most prominent national parks. The national park is only a couple of hours away from Maldonado’s home and she said that vacations to Yosemite are a fundamental part of her family life.
Due to wildfires, Yosemite has turned into an area with turmoil and has become much more unpredictable according to Maldonado. Once a beacon of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the park is now a victim of destruction.
“It’s a downer to know that these things might not be there this year and might not be able to hold these things anymore, “ Maldonado said. “Yosemite is our escape place as a family.”
This national park is only a small portion of the nature lost throughout the fires that continue to burn areas of California. These natural landscapes are also home to many small cabins, which are an important part of Erickson’s hometown.
The cabins are spread out in the northern forests within Sutter and she described them as a “second home.” The loss of nature in areas like these are one way wildfires have affected Erikson.
“You make all these memories with your family and friends in certain places where we certainly travel to,” Erickson said. “You wish you feel it was better managed because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Sutter did not face the chaos it experienced in late 2018, however the ongoing fires can be a wake-up call to what’s going on. Maldonado believes that even those unaffected by these fires should call for action and change.
“You don’t have to be directly affected to have to change something or want to change something,” Maldonado said.