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“The Apocalypse” hits home: Smoke, safety & devastation of Mother Nature
Jason Campbell

I talked to a friend on Wednesday that’s in the fire service, and asked him about what things were like up in Paradise – where many of our local firefighters are currently deployed battling the deadliest fire in California history. 

And his response was chilling.


That wasn’t hyperbole. I’ve heard two different people tell me about animals that were badly burned in the fire – cats, dogs, deer, livestock – and are currently wandering around charred streets aimlessly. The entire community of Paradise is virtually gone, and more than 600 people are missing. 

There’s no indication that there will be anything left of them to find – literally turned to ash. 

It’s hard for me to even imagine that kind of devastation, or what seeing that kind of devastation up close and person does to you as person – particularly when you’re having to do it all summer long. 

Month after month we’ve seen fires of increasing strength and complexity, turning Northern California into one big game of wait and see.

And with Pacific Gas and Electric Company potentially on the hook for the disaster – a repeat of what happened in Wine County last year – the impacts of this fire are going to be felt far and wide.

Thousands of families have lost everything in this fire, and dozens have lost their lives – with dozens more likely waiting to be discovered when the flames finally die out. 

And all across the region, the impacts of the smoke are crippling everything from schools to sporting events – the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section took the extraordinary step of cancelling all playoff football games from essentially Sacramento to Merced – as districts and universities try to find ways to protect students the best way that they can. 

I can’t think of a single time in my life – all of which was spent in Northern California – where a fire has wreaked this kind of havoc on an area this large. 

School: To Go or Not to Go

One of the effects of the Camp Fire has been absolutely horrendous air quality that has far surpassed the unhealthy mark. 

And that has generated a bit of discussion – is it safe to send your children to school where they’re going to have to spend at least some time outdoors, be it walking to or from school or between classes if they happen to a high school student?

On one hand, all of the State Universities that are impacted by the unhealthy air have cancelled classes when the particulate matter readings have gone beyond an acceptable threshold. 

But it doesn’t make much sense to me that college students – adults – in Turlock don’t have to go to class because it’s unhealthy to breathe while high school students in Manteca are being forced to. 

It’s highly unlikely that in the event that school is cancelled, the days wouldn’t be made up on the back end – ensuring that the ADA funding that would be initially lost would be recuperated. After all, there is a contracted number of instructional days and a number set by the state of California to constitute a full school year. 

That’s not to say that the district doesn’t care about students, however. 

I happen to know that there are people in Manteca Unified that are monitoring the situation very closely, and working directly with the San Joaquin County Department of Public Health to make changes to the daily schedule and curriculum as needed to ensure student safety. 

Even then, it’s probably not a good idea to send your kid to school without an N95 or N99-rated mask that can filter out the fine particulates that can be catastrophic to people with existing breathing problems and create them in people who have never had them previously. 

But yet, on Facebook, there have been a few instances in the last day where a Manteca Unified student posts something in a community forum asking questions about their safety, and are then roundly pounced by malcontents who want them to know that back in their day, things were a whole lot worse and they should just shut up and go about their business. 

I don’t even know where to begin with that line of logic because we send kids to school to teach them how to think for themselves about situations just like this one so they can make informed decisions about their own health and their place in the wider world around them.

One argument centered on the fact that because the person making the post had to work outdoors, students should have to go to school as well – completely ignoring the fact that students by law have to go to school, and nobody forces anybody to work in a job where they have to be outdoor or endure conditions that could be considered unhealthy. 

A little bit of empathy, a dash of logic, and a sense that there is a world beyond the end of our noses goes a long way – for what that is worth. 

As a situation this is obviously evolving – firefighters are continuing to make advancements on containing the fire, which would bring an end to the wider health crisis. 

I just hope that things start to clear up soon. 

Pigskin Pickin’

Well, the season has wrapped. 

And while I would love to sit here and gloat about the fact that for the third year in a row I have won this little ragtag pick party, the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section has decided that the air quality is too poor for this round of playoff football to occur, so in solidarity I’m going to hold off a week before bringing the final comments from the Gentlemen of the Thread. 

Both Ripon and Ripon Christian are still standing, and the extra week will give the Knights a chance to better prepare for the monumental task of taking on TVL powerhouse Modesto Christian. 

We’ll talk football again, and hopefully bring you a laugh or too. 

But not this week. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.