Finding wildfire solutions in California
© Getty Images/Kara Capaldo
Today’s Californians are confronting dual threats: fires and floods. Earlier this year, rain pounded California for months, easing years of drought but triggering deadly flash floods. Despite the drenching, the threat of wildfires is ever-present.
California’s wildfire season used to last from June to November, and major fires were few and far between. Today, there is no clear beginning, middle, or end. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection records show that eight of the 10 largest wildfires in California’s history occurred in the last five years.
Climate change and urbanization have forever altered extreme weather patterns around the world. According to studies from the University of California and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, they will continue to cause more frequent fires—and paradoxical megafloods—in California over the next 30 years.
The reality of climate-change extremes puts low-income Californians and people of color most at risk, as they are more likely to experience long-term housing and other challenges after disasters, research shows.
The answers are already in California
So, how do we fight fires and floods? At GlobalGiving, a team of disaster response specialists sees answers already within California.
GlobalGiving is a top-rated nonprofit with decades of experience responding to major disasters and humanitarian crises around the world. It works with a strong network of change leaders in 175+ countries, connecting donors and companies that want to help with the local leaders who best understand what their communities need. To date, the nonprofit has responded to more than 1,000 disasters, raising more than $225 million for relief and recovery. Its team of disaster response specialists, grantmaking pros, and philanthropy advisors will tell you the story is no different in California, Canada, or Cameroon. Anywhere there is a threat to lives and livelihoods, there are local leaders with long-term solutions.
Since the threat of wildfires has increased in California, GlobalGiving has responded, raising more than $3 million for local relief and recovery efforts in partnership with generous donors and companies from 2017 to 2023. GlobalGiving moves quickly and over the long term to reliably get trust-based grants into the hands of local, vetted nonprofit organizations.
The flexible grants have powered the work of dozens of high-impact nonprofits in California. The North Valley Community Foundation is one. Based in Chico, its team remains determined in the wake of the 2018 Camp Fire. Its Butte Strong Fund helped more than 1,200 families in hard-hit communities to recover their personal belongings from the ashes left behind, and it stands as a steady resource today for Californians still on the road to recovery.
Nuestra Comunidad and Puertas Abiertas have also received wildfire relief and recovery grants from GlobalGiving. They work with migrant communities in Sonoma and Napa counties, providing rent abatement to help families recover, conducting outreach, and distributing “go kits” packed with evacuation essentials to prepare families for future fires. Both organizations are determined to reach people in their community who fear being “too visible” if they ask for help or need life-saving information in a language other than English.
Local leaders meeting local needs
As the climate crisis shifts the patterns that are used to guide preparation and response to wildfires, it is clear that philanthropy also needs to shift. It is imperative to turn to local experts like Alma Bowen. She is a dynamic, first-generation Mexican-American woman and leader at Nuestra Comunidad.
For 18 years, Alma worked as a 911 Emergency Service Dispatcher in Sonoma County, California. On the first night of the 2017 Tubbs fire—which killed 22 people and scorched thousands of acres, homes, and businesses—Alma was working the night shift. Over the phone, she heard what it sounds like when communities are unprepared for disasters. She spoke with two migrant workers who needed to escape from the fire but didn’t know the address of the vineyard where they worked because they couldn’t read English. Alma tried to figure out their location based on letters they could recognize. But by the time she did, it was too late. The men had to flee, and she couldn’t send help.
“I really realized that first responders cannot possibly help everyone,” she shared.
So, she took this momentary feeling of helplessness and turned it into a mission. Alma founded Nuestra Comunidad to ensure no community member has to think about anything except their safety during disasters.
Leaders like Alma know their community’s nuances and needs. They clearly see the path to better preparedness and response. Imagine how much more prepared California would be for future disasters if they had the support they needed to fulfill their urgent missions.
As Alma answered frantic 911 calls, Ralph Saccomano of the Humane Society of Ventura County was doing everything he could to save animals at risk of perishing in another wildfire. The nonprofit simply didn’t have the equipment it needed to triumph over the Thomas Fire, one of the most destructive and deadly wildfires in California’s history.
A year later, Ventura County was once again enveloped in flames. This time, Ralph was equipped with a new trailer, a purchase made possible through a GlobalGiving grantmaking partnership with Meta.
“We rescued over 70 horses, cows, goats, and pigs using the new horse trailer that GlobalGiving kindly funded,” Ralph reported. “We were able to bring these animals, some of them severely injured from the fire, to our Ojai facility. These animals will stay here for as long as necessary until they can be safely reunited with their owners. We are forever grateful!”
When brave and visionary leaders like Ralph and Alma are adequately supported, the whole state of California will be safer from the catastrophic threats of climate change. It is possible to move California toward a new normal—one where every Californian hurt by wildfires or floods gets the help they need, one where every Californian is prepared for what might come next.