“No matter the natural disaster I’ve covered, whether it’s a wildfire or flood, I always come back with a much greater perspective.” – Ginger Zee
Despite his age at 63, a health worker from Santa Barbara, Iloilo in the Philippines has vowed to pursue his so-called “American dreams,” and is unfazed by the two tragic events that currently threaten to devastate and stymie his plans.
Nemesio, a live-in caregiver in Mariposa County, California, had been strictly observing the COVID-19 pandemic protocols for the past several months together with his co-workers in an eight-room seniors nursing home facility when they were forced to evacuate on September 8 after the wildfires had ripped through the counties of Fresno, Madera, and Mariposa.
Nemesio’s workplace is located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, north of Fresno, east of Merced, and southeast of Stockton.
“Safety first,” averred Nemesio, who arrived in the United States on a tourist visa in 2009, several months after the inauguration of President Barrack Obama.
He has not returned to the Philippines.
“We have been evacuated to a safer place and this is the most important for the time being,” he told this writer in a phone conversation. “We will figure out what will happen to our employment next.”
When the pandemic hit California, now No. 1 in the US with 758,732 cases and 14,329 deaths, Nemesio and his co-workers, who also aspire to become green card holders or permanent residents, were careful not to be infected as they don’t have health care insurance and other benefits; they needed to save money to pay the immigration lawyers, he intoned in Hiligaynon.
“First the pandemic, now the wildfires,” sobbed Nemesio, eldest of seven children of a retired municipal agriculturist and a fruits vendor. “No retreat, no surrender.”
Nemesio feared that if the blazes, which are also charring huge tracts of land like the 330,000 acres (133,500 hectares) burned in Washington on September 8 alone, are not contained soon they will lose their employment.
Nemesio said his papers for the green card were “on process” before the pandemic came.
“I will never give up,” he vowed, despite the pandemic and the wildfires, which are part of the August Fire Complex that have burned more than 3.1 million acres (1.25 million hectares) in California since the beginning of the year, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) in an update September 11.
“This year’s acres burned is 26 times higher than the acres burned in 2019 for the same time period, and the combined amount of acres burned is larger than the state of Connecticut,” CALFIRE officials wrote.
The raging fires are reportedly driven by high temperatures and dry conditions throughout the West.
Experts said the region is getting hotter and drier thanks to human-caused climate change, so it’s no surprise that wildfires there have been getting more extreme and more destructive recently.
Reports said the smoke wafting from the wildfires raging across the Western United States has been a “wrenching sight”, even from nearly a million miles away.
NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) captured a dramatic shot of the smoke on September 9, showing a huge gray-brown smudge hovering over the Pacific Ocean just off the West Coast.
The wildfires across the American West have burned millions of acres and killed a total of at least 18 people by September 12, as firefighters continued working to contain some of the fastest-growing blazes ever seen.
Fueled by high winds and dry conditions, fires in Oregon, California and Washington state have reportedly destroyed homes and forced last-minute evacuations, displacing thousands of residents amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two dailies in Iloilo./WDJ