Safeguarding Communities After the Silverado and Blue Ridge Fires

National Headquarters  |  January 2, 2021
The Silverado Fire that was sparked on October 26th threatens a populated residential area. Photo by Marilyn Ho.

Written by Marilyn Ho, Gina Shih
Translated by Melody Cao
Edited by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

On October 26th, 2020, two fires ignited in Southern California’s Orange County — first the Silverado Fire, and then the Blue Ridge Fire. The flames spread rapidly, threatening nearby residential areas, which led to urgent evacuations. After two days, residents were able to return home, but some of the debris that filled the air when the fires erupted still lingered. With concerns over escalating COVID-19 cases in addition to the need to protect locals from the continued presence of smoke and dust, Tzu Chi USA’s National headquarters mobilized for a distribution of masks in front of three supermarkets.

Tzu Chi Volunteers In Action

After the fires were sparked, Tzu Chi volunteers at the Orange County Service Center initiated an emergency meeting to prepare supplies, such as Jing Si Instant Rice, Jing Si Noodles, face masks, and hot meals. A Tzu Chi volunteer named Martin Kuo additionally brought 30 eco-blankets for the emergency relief event. Gina Shih, the individual in charge of Tzu Chi’s Orange County Service Center, had immediately contacted the volunteers evacuated by the fire to obtain the latest updates on their situation.

Dark smoke still rises in the air even as residents return home on October 27th. Photo by Marilyn Ho.
Volunteers from Tzu Chi’s Orange County Service Center busily prepare masks for the distribution. Photo by Sharon Wuoo.

The fire spread rapidly in the mountainous area north of Irvine, the acrid, black smoke filling the air and making breathing difficult for residents. Knowing that residents were suffering from the effects of the wildfire, Dr. Han Huang, the Deputy Chief Executive of Tzu Chi USA, called for a meeting to discuss how best to monitor the updated information as well as implement precautionary measures to care for volunteers, including providing masks and air purifiers.

The City of Irvine had opened high schools and community centers as emergency shelters, and Tzu Chi’s Orange County Service Center also prepared shelter for those in need. However, due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19, most residents preferred to arrange their own accommodations to avoid exposure at crowded shelters. The hotels around Irvine were almost full, but evacuated Tzu Chi members were able to settle down with relatives or friends. 

On October 28th, the wildfire no longer threatened the residential areas, the evacuation order was lifted, and the residents returned home.

Jing Si Aphorisms Provide Peace of Mind

On October 29th, Tzu Chi USA’s National Headquarters delivered the air purifiers, Jing Si Instant Rice, and masks to the Orange County Service Center for distribution. Volunteers were mobilized for home visits in the community as well, delivering care from Dharma Master Cheng Yen to Tzu Chi’s families.

Volunteers include an introduction and Jing Si Aphorism bookmark inside a pack of masks. Photo by Sharon Wuoo.

Volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s National Headquarters prepared medical masks in packs of ten, distributing them to local residents in front of three major Chinese supermarkets in Irvine and Chino Hills on Halloween, October 31st.

The poor air quality these days threatens people's health. I hope that the masks distributed will protect everyone's health. Inside each pack of masks, there’s also a small bag containing the Jing Si Aphorisms of Master Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi’s information, and a vegetarian pledge card. I hope these things can bring comfort to everyone and ease their nervousness.

Dr. Han Huang, Deputy Chief Executive of Tzu Chi USA

Martin Kuo, a Tzu Chi volunteer who’s responsible for emergency relief coordination in Orange County, mentioned that when the wildfire started, volunteers in Orange County shared concerns for their team since many live near that area. Although these wildfires no longer threaten residential areas, residents still suffer from the polluted air. Tzu Chi distributed nearly 10,000 masks in the community on October 31st, hoping to provide a sense of relief to the residents, as well as the knowledge that they are not alone. 

Martin Kuo (first left) introduces Tzu Chi’s mission to the supermarket manager, Chris Wang (first right). Photo by James Huang.
Volunteers distribute masks to residents and introduce Tzu Chi’s mission. Photo by Marilyn Ho.

Immediate Mobilization

While Halloween is usually a day where people of all ages enjoy dressing up for parties, the active pandemic put a pause on such gatherings. Few people had dressed up in the community. Only a handful of people were seen dressed up with masks as they walked along the streets decorated with pumpkins. Tzu Chi volunteers from Southern California, however, stood in blue and white uniforms outside the supermarket to greet residents, giving out masks and blessing charms to wish everyone good health.

Gina Shih, a volunteer from the Orange County Service Center who was responsible for the overall coordination of the distribution, said that the wildfire ignited quickly, and she was deeply moved by the immediate mobilization of Tzu Chi volunteers who showed up to dedicate their time under such short notice.  

“Thank you [Tzu Chi], under the leadership of Master Cheng Yen, for quickly mobilizing volunteers to help our community,” said Chris Wang, the manager of 99 Ranch Market in Irvine. “In addition to the condolences and understanding of everyone’s needs, the distribution is very considerable. I hope that in the future, there will be more opportunities for cooperation and serving the community.”

Zachery Hicks, a resident in Irvine, carefully reads the vegetarian promotion materials. Photo by Norman Yang.
Children dressed up for Halloween take a picture with volunteers who were distributing masks. Photo by Norman Yang.

Zachery Hicks, a resident who came to the supermarket for groceries, was happy to accept the masks from Tzu Chi volunteers. “The wildfires polluted the air; lucky we’re all wearing masks already,” he said with emotion. “It’s still really sad to see the damages. And hopefully, we can get everything under control and come together as a nation, the people and everybody.” 

Peace Is A Blessing

The digital signage near Northwood High School in Irvine has continuously displayed a message reading “Thank You Firefighters!” after the wildfire. The community is deeply grateful to the courageous firefighters for all that they do. Tyler Pao, an elementary school student, experienced a fire evacuation for the first time in his life. “This is the first time I saw such a big fire, I was shocked and scared,” he said. “It was like a movie or a dream. Our whole family was evacuated to a hotel. And when I was able to go back home, I was glad to see that the house was not burnt down. I want to thank all the firefighters for their efforts to protect our home.”

Volunteer Gina Shih visits Dr. Peter Chen on behalf of Tzu Chi USA. Photo by Norman Yang.

After the distribution, a volunteer visited Dr. Peter Chen and his family who had been evacuated. This evacuation made him ponder a great deal about life.

We usually feel at peace, and only when disasters hit do we know that the peace we had was actually a blessing. Just as what Master Cheng Yen has taught us.

Dr. Peter Chen, Irvine Resident

Only through the challenges encountered in human affairs is a gentle heart cultivated.

Jing Si Aphorism by Dharma Master Cheng Yen

A volunteer who received an air purifier from Tzu Chi USA, was very grateful for Master Cheng Yen’s constant love and care. She mentioned that after the fire had polluted the air her whole family had experienced trouble breathing. With the air purifier, she knew they would feel much better.

As both the pandemic and natural disasters continue to impact the nation, Tzu Chi volunteers will continue to take mindful action with compassion. With your love, we can strive to always be prepared to aid those who struggle.

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