The ravage fires that are burning large portions of Northern California has claimed the lives of 40 people, and we’re praying that’s the end of it. More than 100,000 have been evacuated and an estimated 5,700 homes and businesses destroyed, the Guardian reports. However, fire crews are making progress on the massive blaze that stretches 100 miles wide but it seems the hardest hit community is those that were already struggling before the fire.
It's been 6 days since the California fires started. We are at 40 dead and climbing, thousands homeless, and not a word from our President.
— Sharky Laguana (@Sharkyl) October 15, 2017
While this affluent area, famously known for being wine county with an abundance of wineries and five-star restaurants, Latinos are part of this robust environment. Latinos make up between 25 and 33 percent of the population in Sonoma and Napa counties. So how are they being affected by record-breaking fires?
In Sonoma Valley, Amelia Ceja’s vineyard was spared and told NBC News that she saw Latino migrant workers still picking grapes at night despite the heavy smoke.
“People shouldn’t be out there working,”Ceja told NBC News.
Armando Elenes, a vice president of United Farm Workers, told NBC News that while 80 percent of “this year’s grapes have been harvested” farmworkers still want to work because they “live paycheck to paycheck.”
“A lot of the farmworkers are undocumented and don’t have access to our financial system like unemployment,” Elenes told NBC News.
Because some of the Latinos in the area are undocumented, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has suspended immigration enforcement in Northern California.
“Immigration enforcement will not be conducted at evacuation sites or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks,” James Schwab, public affairs officer for ICE’s San Francisco office, said on Friday.
Rumor control re: access to shelters. We are open to everyone. No one is asking for immigration status at the shelters. pic.twitter.com/PVqEX4z1se
— County of Sonoma (@CountyofSonoma) October 13, 2017
“The only time we’re going to pick someone up is in the event of a serious criminal presenting a current public safety threat,” Schwab said, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The other problem some Latinos are facing is the lack of Spanish communication. It’s hard for them to even decipher what to do and where to go if no one is telling them in Spanish. Public Radio International reports that Latinos turned to KBBF, a bilingual community radio station, for news and information.
“There’s a local radio station that was basically 24/7 fire information in English, but there was nobody else providing information in Spanish. So KBBF basically just started doing that on Monday morning,” Hugo Mata told PRI.
“Many of those fires were so unexpected,” Mata told PRI. “Some callers said that they only had like two or three minutes to react because there was no time for them to gather anything. So it was almost immediate. A lot of people lost their houses and they didn’t take anything with them.”