Protecting the Health of Those Impacted by California’s Bobcat Fire

National Headquarters  |  December 2, 2020
Smoke from the Bobcat Fire smoke spread far and widely, seriously affecting the air quality across Los Angeles County. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

The fire has been burning for the past two days. The smell of the smoke is so dense; it makes my eyes and throat uncomfortable. I can’t breathe like usual, and it feels like something’s stuck in my throat.

Jinhua Zhu, a resident of Arcadia, a city in California’s Los Angeles County, rubbed her neck as she told Tzu Chi volunteers how she was feeling since the start of the Bobcat Fire. She and her daughter, Wenqing Wu, had come to Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool in Monrovia on September 10 to pick up cotton masks prepared by Tzu Chi USA for area residents affected by the wildfire.

The Bobcat Fire causes ash to rain down from the sky over the San Gabriel Valley, covering roadside vehicles. Photo/Jennifer Chien

The Bobcat Fire ignited in the Angeles National Forest on September 6, 2020. It burned 26,000 acres of land just in the first six days before becoming one of Los Angeles County’s largest fires on record to date, consuming over 115,000 acres before it was fully contained on November 2.

Tzu Chi USA’s Bobcat Fire relief efforts mobilized swiftly, initially addressing the poor air quality that ensued in Los Angeles County. Ashes and smoke had shielded the sun from view and were making it difficult for people to breathe. A layer of ash quickly covered vehicles parked by the roadside. Many San Gabriel Valley residents felt their throats and eyes become itchy due to the smoke engulfing their neighborhoods.

Providing Washable Cotton Masks to Guard Against Smoke Inhalation

To protect the health of residents affected by smoke from the Bobcat Fire, Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters held a distribution of free cotton masks in Monrovia. On September 10 and 11, 300 packs of cotton masks, containing a total of 1,500 cloth masks, were distributed.

Tzu Chi USA’s Chief Executive Officer, Jackson Chen, said that Tzu Chi had activated its wildfire disaster relief efforts as soon as the Santa Ana winds season began. Volunteers had established a command center to monitor the development of wildfires throughout California and were mobilizing emergency relief services to help those affected, as their needs emerged:

At one of Tzu Chi’s kindergartens in Monrovia, volunteers understand that the ashes from the wildfire have severely affected the air quality for L.A. County residents. Therefore, Tzu Chi volunteers organized this mask distribution immediately. Each household can receive a pack of cloth masks, containing five 100% cotton masks that can be reused after washing.

As volunteers hand out masks, they also share about Tzu Chi’s missions and call on residents to participate in the 2020 census. Photo/James Huang
While distributing the masks, volunteers explain that they are washable and eco-friendly. Photo/Jennifer Chien

The Distribution Benefits Residents of Neighboring Communities as Well

News of Tzu Chi USA’s mask distribution event for those affected by the Bobcat Fire spread in various ways. Ozzy Mora, a Monrovia resident, received a message about it from the Los Angeles County government and stopped by on the way home. While the distribution took place in Monrovia, residents of neighboring communities also attended.

On the day before the distribution, the City of Arcadia Neighborhood Watch Group sent out City Council Member Sho Tay’s message announcing the event on WeChat. That’s how Wenqing Wu learned about the distribution and went with her mother, Jinhua Zhu, who was suffering due to smoke from the Bobcat Fire. Hearing of the event, another Arcadia resident who has supported Tzu Chi’s missions in the past also attended and donated $20 to assist the aid effort.

Wenqing Wu (middle), an Arcadia resident, accompanies her mother, Jinhua Zhu (right), to pick up cotton masks at Tzu Chi USA’s distribution in Monrovia. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Residents of Alhambra also attended – Hongpei Lin among them. When he came to pick up cloth masks, he shared that he’s a member of an overseas Chinese Myanmar group and learned about Tzu Chi’s distribution through them. He expressed his gratitude to Tzu Chi volunteers for making so many masks available to local residents free of charge, saying he would inform relatives and friends about the distribution as well.

Having seen a Facebook post about the distribution in Monrovia, a resident of neighboring Glendora came as well, since she knew Tzu Chi’s cotton masks and liked them a lot.

Hongpei Lin drove from Alhambra to the distribution in Monrovia to show his support for Tzu Chi’s activities. Photo/Jennifer Chien
Many residents from neighboring communities came to the distribution in Monrovia to pick up free masks. Photo/James Huang
Volunteers safely hand masks to residents inside their vehicles. Photo/James Huang

Ascertaining Where Additional Help May Be in Order

In addition to providing the distribution of masks in Monrovia, volunteers from Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters also headed farther north to assess how those neighborhoods were being affected by the Bobcat Fire and determine if help was in order.

Some residents living directly in the San Gabriel Mountains’ foothills saw Tzu Chi volunteers surveying the neighborhood on foot and shared what was going on. As they stood nervously looking up at where wildfire activity was ominously in view, one lady told the volunteers that on September 9, City officials had notified residents to prepare for evacuation should the fire begin spreading downhill into residential areas.

Volunteers visit a community north of Monrovia and observe wildfire activity nearby. Photo/Jennifer Chien
Area residents nervously monitor wildfire activity near their homes. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Volunteers also went to Monrovia’s Canyon Park to evaluate the Bobcat Fire’s possible threat. They found that the road leading inside the park had been closed until further notice, with security guards stationed at the entrance.

Different jurisdictions were collaborating to protect residents’ safety since the Bobcat Fire was burning in Angeles National Forest, under the care of the U.S. Forest Service, while threatening communities under the supervision of Los Angeles County and particular cities, such as the City of Monrovia in this case. It was evident that everyone involved was on high alert and would remain so until the Bobcat Fire was finally 100% contained a few weeks later.

Tzu Chi volunteers visit Monrovia's Canyon Park to inquire about the spread of the Bobcat Fire. Photo/Jennifer Chien
A local TV station reports about the impact of the Bobcat Fire in the Monrovia community. Photo/Jennifer Chien

With this same spirit of collaboration and joint effort, Tzu Chi volunteers across the nation work together to assess communities’ needs then provide appropriate help.

While some teams were monitoring the Bobcat Fire in Los Angeles County, at the same time, others observed communities impacted by the Valley Fire in San Diego County near the U.S.-Mexico border. In response to their needs, Tzu Chi USA sent 6,800 medical masks to temporary shelters in the area. The masks had a dual purpose: To increase protection from COVID-19 while protecting from smoke inhalation due to wildfire activity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the U.S. to a standstill. The threat of wildfires during the Santa Ana winds season then doubled many Southern California residents’ troubles. At this challenging time, Tzu Chi USA continues to encourage the spirit of mutual help among neighbors. To do the best we can to keep our communities safe from danger on all fronts, we invite you to join hands with us in our efforts by supporting Tzu Chi USA’s ongoing Together While Apart missions.

If you can activate your true nature and sense of responsibility, then you will naturally be able to do all things easily and without complaint.

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