California fires: Trauma, loss and fear rule


Vishal Mahindru lost his restaurant business and home garage to the California wildfires in 2018. Last Wednesday, when many in his neighborhood left as the fires raged again, painting the skies in apocalyptic colors, he stayed back.

The fire September 8 started in Berry Creek in Butte County, California, but it also forced residents of neighboring Paradise to evacuate from the town since the blaze was spreading fast.

My wife says she cannot leave me,” Mahindru told indica News. “Last time in 2018, she was visiting city of Chino in California [where they have another home] when the fire started in the city of Paradise in Butte County, and was not able to return home for several weeks.”

In November 2018, a wildfire guttered 80 percent of Paradise, where Mahindru lives with his family at present.

We have kept our clothes packed, but there are so many precious things, don’t know what to pack and what to leave behind,” Mahindru said when asked what he would do if the situation worsened.

Mahindru rued that his restaurant business had already been impacted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and now the fire threatens to make it worse.

We are safe… not as bad as last year, but you never know,” he said Monday.

He has had a stressful week.

The night of September 9, when the fire in Berry Creek started moving towards Paradise, the electricity went off. The wind was not towards Paradise area, but by late night it turned bad.

The wind started blowing the way it was in 2018, making it worse, but luckily the blaze did not reach our area. However, since many had faced the brunt of 2018, many in this neighborhood fled,” he said.

I told my wife, let me drop you and kids to our other home in Chino, about 20 miles away, but she refused. She said whatever happens, this time we will stay together.”

Mahindru added: “She is still scared; the fire of 2018 is still haunting us.”

They still have not forgotten the terrifying sound of cars exploding in the 2018 fire, but are still hanging on to hope.

There are consequences of leaving the home — you have pets, and police block you from coming back and you never know what will happen,” he said.

The insurance has gone up, we have not been compensated yet from the 2018 fire. It’s hard, but what can we do,” Mahindru said.

He said he earlier he used to pay $1,600 for the insurance for his home and business, now he pays $6,500.

According to the California fire report of September 13, since the beginning of 2020 wildfires have burned over 3.3 million acres in California, which is a larger area than the state of Connecticut.

Since August 15, when California’s fire activity elevated, there have been 22 fatalities and over 4,100 structures destroyed.

According to Cal Fire, 29 major wildfires were still burning across California as of Friday, with approximately 16,750 firefighters battling them.

Sikh Institute of Fresno members during their drive to collect necessary items for the fire-affected

Fresno, California-based Gurdeep Shergill, member of the Sikh Institute of Fresno and GHG Academy, told indica News they were trying to help firefighters and families.

On Sunday, September 13, we offered food items, water, energy drinks, toothpaste, wipes and daily necessity items to families who have been displaced by the fire,” Shergill said.

We have connected with the Fresno sheriff so that the supplies reach the correct people. The fire is not in the city but the smoke is visible all over. It’s really bad and unhealthy.”

The situation is grim and even the National Park Service announced the closure of Muir Woods, Alcatraz and Fort Point in the San Francisco Bay Area due to unhealthy air quality throughout the region.

The executive director of San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management, Mary Ellen Carroll, advised residents Friday that with smoke making the air unhealthy to breathe, people should stay inside with doors and windows closed.