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All around the world, we have had our share of extreme weather events so far in 2016.  Certainly that is the case here in Southern California, where we are in the midst of a multi-year drought. In the last few weeks we have had unseasonably hot weather and strong winds - a prescription for trouble.

The chaparral that covers our California foothills, while drought tolerant, is highly flammable after this extended period of time without what is considered average rainfall.  In fact, we seldom have an “average rainfall year.” We have years in which we have very little rain, and years when we are deluged.  This past rainy season was an El Niño year, one in which we expected rain well above average, but the jet stream carried the rain around us.  In March there was some rain, enough to water the grasses that cover the foothills.  Since then the unseasonable heat has turned that growth to a golden brown.  To make matters worse, due to the extended drought, tens of thousands of trees have died and become tinder. 

In this situation, we Californians collectively hold our breath during the “Fire Season” hoping that we will not have any dry lightning strikes or that no one will do something foolhardy -- like park a vehicle with a hot catalytic converter on top of dried grass,  carelessly flick a cigarette into the brush, or fail to thoroughly dowse a camp fire on a windy night.  Those of us who live on the urban fringe, backed up against the wilderness, routinely sniff the air for any hint of smoke which will be our first warning of a wildfire.   

For many, this last month saw their worst fears come true.  There are currently nine wildfires burning along the length of the state, consuming a total of about 70,000 acres. Two are located within Rotary District 5240: The Sherpa Fire which has consumed nearly 7,500 acres in Santa Barbara County and the Erskine Fire, which is still burning near Lake Isabella, in Kern County. The Erskine Fire  is by far the largest, accounting for 45,388 acres to date and is the largest fire disaster in Kern County history.  At last report, it had destroyed 150 homes and taken two lives. Fanned by winds up to 50 and 60 miles per hour, the fire advanced so quickly that people near to the fire's origin had no time to gather anything other than their pets before fleeing for their lives. Thousands of people are displaced, waiting to hear if their homes were destroyed or among those that survived, waiting for clearance to return to their neighborhoods to assess the damage.  The cause of the fire is as yet unknown.



Photo taken by, then PE, Michael Henstra
of the 
Erskine Fire approaching his home.
Today Michael officially becomes the 2016-17 President of the Rotayy E-Club of One World.  What a way to start!


The number homes destroyed in the Erskine Fire prompted a campaign by the D5240 Rotary Club of Kern River Valley, which meets in Kernville, a neighbor community to Lake Isabella.  The drive is intended to raise funds for the fire’s neediest victims. RC Kern River Valley have partnered with Kern River Valley Revitalization (KRVR), a 501(c)3 organization, so any contributions will be tax deductible.   

The E-Club of One World is focusing our program this week on their effort as it struck very close to home for One World Rotarian, our President (as of today) Michael Henstra, who lives in Lake Isabella.  As members may have seen in the photos and video that Michael posted to Facebook, the flames came right up to the edge of his property and might well have destroyed his home except that firefighters were there making a stand that prevented the fire’s advance into his neighborhood. Their valiant effort and a fortuitous shift in the wind made all the difference for Michael and his wife Karen and their immediate neighbors.

The RC Kern River Valley effort is a worthy one.  Help from outside the Lake Isabella is necessary because the community is not an affluent one, and many of the victims have lost nearly everything.  The median household income in 2015 was estimated to be about $24,240, and more than 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. A high percentage of residents are retired. Renters represented 31 percent of the residents, and frequently renters have no insurance.*

If you can contribute, it will be much appreciated.  The link to donate is on our home page and here:

To read more about the fire, see this article in the Los Angeles Times:

A tribute to the victims of the Erskine Fire disaster by Christian Brink:


* Demographic data are from CityData.


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