‘It feels like the end of the world’: SoCal Filipino evacuees respond to Bobcat Fire

Firefighters are on the defensive as the Bobcat Fire makes its way toward Mt. Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains in northern Los Angeles County. The fire has spread 109,271 acres with 17% containment as of Tuesday, Sept. 21. | Photo by Brian Lugo /Bobcat IC Crew 12

Residents in the San Gabriel Valley lament a disastrous fire season in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic

AS of Tuesday, Sept. 22, the Bobcat Fire that was first sparked two weeks ago in the San Gabriel mountains has now scorched through more than 109,000 acres, becoming among the largest fires in Los Angeles County.

In recent days, the blaze has grown substantially, accelerated by strong winds, prompting evacuation orders in the surrounding areas by Monday evening.

According to the LA County Fire Department, the mandatory evacuation orders affect residents located in the following areas:

• South and West of Upper Big Tujunga, East of Angeles Forest Hwy, North of Angeles Crest Hwy

• Residences along Angeles Crest Highway, between Angeles Forest Highway and Highway 39.

• The unincorporated areas of Juniper Hills, Devils Punch Bowl and Paradise Springs. Unincorporated areas of Crystal Lake, East Fork of the San Gabriel River and Camp Williams.

• Areas south of Highway 138, north of Big Rock Creek, east of 87th Street East and west of Largo Vista Road.

• Areas south of 138th Street East, north of Big Pine Highway and Highway 2, east of Largo Vista Road and west of 263rd Street East; and south of Highway 138, north of East Avenue W-14, east of 155th Street East and West of 165th Street East

The Bobcat Fire first erupted on Sept. 6 near the Cogswell Dam and West Fork Day Use area just northeast of Mount Wilson and within the massive Angeles National Forest. The cause remains under investigation.

The fire has been 17% contained with at least 29 structures destroyed or damaged, according to the LA County Fire Department on Tuesday. Additionally, 1,513 personnel have so far been deployed to fight the growing blaze that local fire authorities expect will be fully contained until Oct. 30.

Local officials are urging the public to follow orders from fire officials and to be ready to evacuate if their community is threatened.

U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, who represents the state’s 27th congressional district, said in a statement that “the number one priority remains protecting lives. We can avoid preventable deaths by following orders from the fire management team and local governments.”

“The defensive firing operation is going well at Mt. Wilson. They’re using aerial ignitions to increase the buffer between HWY 2 near Barley Flat to Big Tujunga Rd,” the official twitter account for the Angeles National Forest wrote on Tuesday.

The Angeles National Forest was ordered to close while a smoke advisory was issued by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The pervasive smoke that has plagued the air quality throughout the county is expected to directly impact the expanse between Burbank and Glendora.

Meanwhile, the El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino is expected to impact portions of the Inland Empire, moving west towards the Bobcat Fire.

Although California wildfires are a regular occurrence that have coincided with the yearly rise in overall climate and temperature, the arrival of the Bobcat Fire was still an unwelcome visitor that is complicating an already turbulent period in public safety and health.

Gabe Patrick, a Filipino American single father of two daughters living in Monrovia, told the Asian Journal  that he and his family had evacuated on Sunday ahead of the official orders to leave the area.

“We couldn’t chance it, you know,” Patrick told the Asian Journal  over the phone on Monday. “Thankfully, our home is south of the 210 [freeway] so it feels safe for now, but I wanted us to get out of the area because of the air quality and in case it did get worse.”

Patrick’s 7-year-old daughter has asthma and has been struggling with the toxic pollution brought on by the fires. The family is currently staying with an aunt in Diamond Bar.

Like so many families who shared their pandemic woes with the Asian Journal throughout quarantine, Patrick was already finding it difficult to adjust to living during a pandemic and assisting his school-aged daughters in distance learning.

“It feels like the end of the world,” Patrick lamented, referencing the 4.5 magnitude earthquake that shook the entire Southland on Friday night. “I think for us, the earthquake really sent us packing because [Rosemead, the earthquake’s epicenter] was so close. I know that it was felt pretty much everywhere but between that, the fires so close to home and the [rising] pandemic numbers here [it felt like] enough was enough.”

Like other parents, Patrick is doing his best to boost morale in an all-around “disastrous” time.

“There’s only so much you can control, so I think the best thing we can do is just focus on what we can realistically do,” he added. For me, that’s making sure my kids are doing their homework, getting their basic necessities in and then have enough time to have fun, watch movies, pick up some cool hobbies.”

“I think that’s what we need to really put some focus on right now: looking for some kind of enjoyment,” Patrick said.

Filipina American caregiver Myka Reyes left her Azusa home on Saturday, Sept. 19 before the mandatory evacuation orders were issued and has been staying with her sister in Long Beach. Reyes lives in Azusa with roommates, but last week, they all decided it would be wise to evacuate before the fires grew nearer.

She described the last few weeks as “a slow doomsday-esque period” when she was bombarded with depressing COVID-19 updates and the worsening fires that continue to threaten neighborhoods and landmarks like Mount Wilson.

“I’m not sure how long I’m going to stay here [with my sister], but it doesn’t seem like [the fire] will be going away any time soon,” Reyes, 23, told the Asian Journal over the phone. “I packed all my necessities, including my cat, and got the heck out of there.”

“It’s a lot, isn’t it? I think if we all survive this we deserve a lot of rest,” said Reyes, who is studying psychology at Mount San Antonio College. “We’ve got these fires up and down our state, the pandemic, the election and all these really intense and stressful and frustrating things. I’m trying to keep my mind occupied but it does feel apocalypse-like.”

But even though life in Southern California feels like a “trifecta of dread” with the fires, the pandemic and social and civil unrest, according to Reyes, it’s important to maintain order as a way to keep sane. And, one of the most crucial parts of that is staying connected with family.

“Our parents are not with us anymore so it’s a bit of a blessing to be with my sister for the time being. I guess that’s a silver lining,” Reyes said, adding that both sisters tested negative before Reyes relocated.

Fire officials on Tuesday issued additional evacuation warnings to surrounding areas:
– Pasadena
– Unincorporated communities of Altadena and Wrightwood
– South of Pearblossom Highway, north of Angeles Forest Highway, north and west of Mount Emma Road, east and south of Highway 122, and west of Cheseboro Road
– South of Highway 2, north of Blue Ridge Truck Trail, east of Highway 39, and west of the Los Angeles County border
– South of Avenue U-8, north of East Avenue W-14, east of 121st East, and west of 155th Street East
– South of Pearblossom Highway, south and east of Pearblossom Highway, north and west of Mt. Emma Road, north and east of Angeles Forest Highway, and west of Cheseboro Road
– South of Mount Emma Road, north of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, and west of Pacifico Mountain
– Littlerock: east of Cheseboro Road, south of Pearblossom Highway, north of Weber Ranch Road, west of 87th St E.

Anybody who needs assistance with locating shelters is urged to call the Disaster Distress Hotline at 800-675-5799. The LA County Dept. of Animal Care and Control are also offering pet shelters for families affected by the Bobcat Fire at their Baldwin Park, Palmdale and Lancaster centers.

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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