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As fires rage through the West Coast, students share how its impacting them at home

A firefighter runs in front of flames as it burns structures down in a field with heavy smoke coming from it.
A firefighter runs past flames while battling the Glass Fire in a Calistoga, Calif., vineyard.

BYU–Hawaii students in California, Oregon and Utah said they experienced terrible air quality from ash in the air and evacuations due to the West Coast fires in the United States.

On Aug. 18, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a “statewide emergency due to fires and extreme weather conditions,” according to the State of California website.

Newsom said, “We are deploying every resource available to keep communities safe as California battles fires across the state during these extreme conditions.”

Keanu Dellona, a senior from California majoring in psychology, said, “There were many times we did not know whether or not we were going to get kicked out of our homes in order to evacuate. It’s close enough where people I know have actually had to evacuate as well for their safety.

“[The situation] brought more strain onto the quarantine, and we had to make sure our emergency kits are up to date and that we regularly check the air quality as well.”

Dellona said he witnessed and felt comfort after groups of firetrucks on their way to battle fires. During the evacuation of Santa Cruz, Cal., Dellona said, “My family and I donated blankets for those who had to leave their homes.

“While I was donating, I saw how lively the volunteers were in their efforts to gather these supplies for those in need which was touching to see.”

Shannon Crowley, an alumna of BYUH from California, said she lives 45 minutes away from the fire in Butte County. “We go through this every year and every year seems to get worse,” she said.

Crowley said people need to stop focusing on what causes the fires and focus more on donating supplies, water and helping those in need that lost so much from it.

The North Complex Fire caused devastating damage in Butte County, said Crowley. “We already lost more than 700 homes.”

Ben Cranney, a senior from California majoring in communications, said the fires made him think about others more and motivated him to help out in any way he could. “Natural disasters are awful, but they do bring people together and remind us that even though we may be okay where we are, others need help,” Cranney said.

Although Cranney lives in Southern California, which is far from the fires, he noticed the air quality is “a lot worse than it normally would be.”

Alex Song, a sophomore from California majoring in both Hawaiian studies and psychology, said the fires are not close enough to him to need to evacuate.

“I am close enough where I can smell the smoke and see the ash in the air,” said Song. “We go out to the car and it’s covered in ash.”

Elizabeth Allen, a sophomore from Oregon majoring in computer science, said “There’s just a lot of smoke and it’s hard to breathe. … The hair salon I go to actually had to close because the air was so bad.” Allen said she misses Hawaii even more because of the fires in Oregon.