Prayers and help for the victims of the California wildfires

OUR HEARTS go out to the victims of the California wildfires that have been devastating many parts of the wine country in Northern California this month. This is personal to me as our friends who live in Santa Rosa are among those whose lives will forever be changed by this tragedy.

Dr. Marlon De Castro, wife Ina De Castro, their two boys and their dog had to evacuate their home in the wee hours of Sunday, October 8, when their next door neighbor called them up to alert them about the fire.

Ina, who usually mutes her phone at night, was so tired that day that she forgot to turn the ringer off. It was divine intercession indeed to save their family because when she looked out the window, she saw the blaze burning so near it appeared to be on the verge of engulfing their neighborhood.

Marlon and Ina immediately took the kids, dog, a few clothes, and valuables like photo albums and documents to their cars and headed off to safer grounds.

The De Castros finally took shelter in their friends’ home in San Francisco, and later on were welcomed by our common family friends Dr. Jojo and Lulu de Pala in their home in Petaluma.

Their family could not go back to their neighborhood up to now because of the mandatory off limits imposed by the city as the air quality in the disaster areas remained to be dangerous. Based on what they had been hearing from local news reports, their neighborhood in Santa Rosa had been decimated to ashes.

Marlon and Ina thought they had lost the house they have worked so hard for, the home where they have raised their family and made so many memories —  until they got a call from one of the neighbors who told them that the De Castro’s home was the only one house still standing in their neighborhood.

The De Castros’ home had been spared, and this was indeed a miracle for them. Their home insurance company told them it may take about six months to a year for the damage caused by smoke and intense heat to be repaired. They would have to be housed in a rental home before they could go back to Santa Rosa.

While it will be a long time before their lives go back to normal, the De Castros are grateful they are safe, alive, and that they can still go back to their home. Other families have not been as fortunate.

As of press time, 42 people have died, including Filipina caregiver Teresa Santos.  As The Filipino Channel’s daily newscast “Balitang America” reported, almost 7,000 homes and other buildings were destroyed by the wildfires. The California State Insurance Commission estimated that the blazes will cost at least $1 billion in damages. Officials say the total damage cost, particularly to insured properties, is expected to rise.

More than 15,000 remain evacuated as of Thursday, October 19, as tens of thousands have been allowed to return to their homes. Last week, about 100,000 had to leave their homes.

BALITANG AMERICA and ABS-CBN Foundation International are supporting communities affected by the devastating wildfires. Your donation of a small amount of $5 or $10 can already provide packed relief good items and comfort kits for each evacuee.

To donate, visit ABSCBNFOUNDATION.ORG or call 1(800) 527-2820.

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Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to,

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