Tick Fire Survivors Receive Tzu Chi Compassion as Several Additional Flames Spark Across California

National Headquarters  |  November 11, 2019
Tzu Chi volunteers care for Tick Fire survivors through comfort and relief aid. Photo /Michael Tseng

English translation by:  Diana Chang
Edited by Natasha Palance

Excessive winds caused multiple dangerous wildfires to burn throughout the Greater Los Angeles Area at the end of October. Among them, the Tick Fire in Los Angeles county on October 24th, scorched over 4,000 acres, destroying structures and threatening more, prompting evacuations that displaced up to 50,000 residents. 

Following initial assessment reports at disaster sites, the team along with volunteers from Tzu Chi Northridge Service Center provided survivors with emergency assistance via financial aid, eco-friendly blankets, and emotional support with a safe space to share their stories at the Santa Clarita Event Center.

Tick Fire Blaze Prompts Urgent Evacuations

According to Los Angeles County Fire Chief, Daryl L. Osby, the Tick wildfire began on the afternoon of Thursday, October 24th and continued to burn for seven days, destroying more than 4,300 acres of land. While the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) responded to the fast-moving flames with 600 firefighters in addition to multiple firefighting helicopters and engines, only 5% containment was successfully achieved by Friday afternoon the following day.

Palm trees and other foliage in the yards of Los Angeles county residents are burnt by the Tick Fire. Photo / Michael Tseng
Tzu Chi volunteers conduct on-site assessment reports for impacted regions of Los Angeles County. Photo / Michael Tseng

While winds died down considerably into Friday, the still-severe hot, dry climate prompted a state of emergency for the county. Some evacuated residents returned home by the afternoon, but local authorities warned the 150,000 residents in the area to be on alert and ready to evacuate if conditions worsen. All public schools in the Santa Clarita area, as well as some community colleges, were closed due to the dangerous weather conditions.

The fire’s reach of impact was expansive. According to Northridge Tzu Chi volunteer Cornell, while the Northridge area is not geographically close to the Tick Fire, communities including Granada Hills and Porter Ranch were still severely impacted with road closures.

Strong Winds Fuel Additional Flames

While the Tick Fire continued to burn, a second fire ignited in the Valley Center area around 1 pm Friday afternoon, damaging a home and destroying several buildings while residents evacuated. Due to the abnormal dryness of the air, the fire spread rapidly. Although a large number of firefighters and helicopters attempted to contain the flames, 10 acres of land were burned within 90 minutes. By that evening, the fire had burned 37 acres of land.

An additional third fire broke out in San Clemente in Orange County that same day and set about 2-acres of brush ablaze. Firefighters made quick work of the flames, resulting in no personal injuries or structural damage. And, a fourth small brush fire erupted in Rosemead in Los Angeles County in the afternoon of the 25th near a golf course in the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area. Firefighters contained the fire within an hour, but the blaze had already burned two acres of land. No injuries or building damage have been reported.

On Thursday, October 31, the Tick Fire was fully contained according to the LA County Fire Department. The following day, Tzu Chi volunteers visited impacted areas within the Santa Clarita community for three consecutive days to care for the survivors at local disaster service centers.

Tzu Chi volunteers stationed in the Santa Clarita local disaster service center serve Tick Fire survivors. Photo / Michael Tseng

Fleeing in Terror

During Tzu Chi relief facilitation at a service center, care recipient and LA county evacuated resident Christine Salvaggio shares her story of the day the Tick Fire ignited. While sick at home that Thursday afternoon, she heard a sudden knock on the door. A firefighter informed her that the fire had already burned the hill behind her house, and informed her to evacuate immediately. Christine was scared, but bravely got her dog in the car and opened the gate to let the firefighters in to prepare for the approaching flames. She rushed back inside to pack some medicine, cards, and then escaped from her home before the flames made impact.

Christine Salvaggio (left) points out the extent of the Tick Fire damage in her community and shares her story of survival to a volunteer. Photo / Michael Tseng

Christine recalled that after safely arriving outside the high risk areas, she parked her car on the side of the road and couldn’t help but start crying. She called a friend to ask if she could come visit to find solace. But while surrounding trees, neighboring fences, two cars and a boat were burned in her community, Christine’s house was only slightly damaged thanks to firefighter preventative efforts. She is very grateful to the individuals who risked their lives to save her home, and to the Tzu Chi volunteers who supported her in her time of need.

I went to the disaster assistance center and met Jean, a Tzu Chi volunteer. She was so kind, so caring, and said that I can come to her for help at any time. She gave me [a cash card] to buy things. In fact, I really do need to buy a shovel and do some clean up.

An Escape Through Blinding Smoke and Loss of Power

Tzu Chi volunteers met survivor Maria Malcolm on the road during a disaster assessment visit. By the evening of the 24th, the Tick Fire flames were already burning close to her home. The surrounding neighborhood was filled with smoke, and she could hardly see anything. Her mother was sick and lying in bed at home at the time with debilitating physical circumstances. With help from neighbors, she and her daughter moved her mother from the second floor to evacuate the home. As the fire continued to spread, the smoke became so thick that she could barely see the stairs in front of her. They were terrified.

Maria recalled that two neighbors had to run back upstairs, risking their lives to help her mother, while she ensured that she and her daughter safely evacuated the house first. Her daughter comforted her, “Grandma will be fine. They will bring grandmother down; they will be fine. God bless! Everyone will be safe.”

Tzu Chi volunteers met, pictured from right to left, survivor Maria Malcolm and her daughter on the way to an assessment visit. Photo / Michael Tseng
The Povich brothers, pictured on the left, met Tzu Chi volunteer Jean Hsu, first on the right, at a Tzu Chi booth in a local disaster service center. Photo / Michael Tseng

Other survivor homes were similarly severely impacted, like Mike Povich and his brother’s family of eight children – residents of a mobile home community on Sand Canyon Sierra Highway. After a forced evacuation and an intended temporary stay at his sister’s house, the Poviches returned home to find their community without power for two days. Much of their food had perished, and many struggled to function without electricity. “The wildfires [were] burning in the mobile home community; all the residents were forced to evacuate,” Mike explained. “We’re [now] living without electricity and daily necessities – it’s really driving everyone crazy.”

As a result of the uninhabitable conditions, the Poviches were forced to relocate back to their sister’s home again and resulted to seeking outside relief aid. Mike’s niece shared information about a community relief service center where they later came to the Tzu Chi booth for assistance, and were so thankful for the compassion they received.

Comfort After Loss and Change

John Hsu, a Tzu Chi volunteer at the Northridge Office, mentioned that the occurrence of the wildfires were very sudden and residents were urgently evacuated with little to no time to prepare. A majority of residents were evacuated to shelters, while others sought help from relatives or friends, or opted for temporary stays in a hotel. Tzu Chi volunteers visited survivors at shelters first to provide comfort and assess how to best address their imminent needs.

John Hsu elaborated on the dedication demonstrated by Tzu Chi volunteers. Often as one of the first organizations stationed inside disaster service centers, residents receive immediate care from our team. Daily needs are addressed, warmth is provided by eco-friendly blankets weather permitting, in addition to nutritional food as many lack supplies due to power outages. In some severe cases, residents are rendered homeless. When the shelter closes at the end of the day, volunteers facilitate emergency cash distributions to help immediately resolve any outstanding needs of displaced families.

John Hsu,, Tzu Chi Northridge volunteer, assists wildfire survivors with great optimism and compassion. Photo / Michael Tseng
Jean Hsu (left), a Tzu Chi volunteer, warmly helps a resident complete aid registration forms. Photo / Michael Tseng

Amid the state’s current-running fire season, one Tzu Chi volunteer accompanied local wildfire survivors throughout the month of October. When the former Saddleridge Fire erupted earlier this past month, Jean and other volunteers were stationed at the local disaster service center in Los Angeles County for seven days, and subsequently a center in the city of Santa Clarita.

During an outreach, Jean met survivor Christine, whose house was nearly destroyed from the flames. Thanks to compassionate warmth from the Tzu Chi team, Christine received life-changing help. “We are grateful for Tzu Chi volunteers, and grateful for Master Cheng Yen, because of her great compassion,” Jean explained. “When providing help at such a remote area, regardless of day and night, all volunteers practice the same Tzu Chi spirit and help all sentient beings together.”

In a time of loss and suffering, affected residents found great solace in Tzu Chi volunteers, many of whom forged unexpected friendships as survivors shared their stories. With heartfelt connections established, our team will continue to support families in rebuilding their lives and adjusting back to a state of normalcy following this disaster.

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