by Faygie Levy Holt – Chabad.org
“You see it. You smell it. Anywhere you drive around the city, you see the fire in the mountains,” said Rabbi Choni Marozov, co-director of Chabad of S. Clarita Valley in Southern California with his wife, Frumi. “This was definitely the worst we have seen. There have been other fires similar distances away, but they usually last a day, a day-and-a-half; this one has lasted much longer. Plus, the winds keep changing direction, so it would move away a bit and then come back.”
The Marozovs live in Valencia, a few miles from the location of the “Sand Fire.”
That fire, which has claimed at least one life, destroyed 18 homes and burned more than 38,000 acres in the Santa Clarita Valley mountains by Thursday afternoon, and is now 65 percent contained nearly a week after it started on July 22. To the north, in Central California, the “Soberanes Fire” that ignited the same day continues to blaze. At least one volunteer who was helping to battle the fire was killed, more than 40 structures have been destroyed, and an estimated 27,000 acres of land have been burned so far.
Some 2,700 personnel, including local firefighters, U.S. Forestry Service crews, helicopter pilots, and L.A. County sheriff and fire officers, have been battling the Sand Fire. Another 3,500 people are fighting the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County, which heightened in intensity on Thursday.
Earlier this week, both areas declared local states of emergency. The fires could take weeks to put out completely.
“The firefighters are amazing people. You can see the hard work they did to protect our home,” says Yair Haim, whose family was evacuated last week with thousands of others and only allowed to return home on Monday night. “We have seven acres of land, and on it we saw the fire department trench some holes and create a line barrier. The fire reached about 15 feet from our guesthouse and 25 feet from our main house.”
Down the road from the Haims, the situation proved tragic; the man who lived just four houses away died in the fire.
Haim says that his wife, Kerry, was alone with their two young children, ages 1 and 4, when the evacuation order came. “It was scary. You don’t imagine something like this will happen to you,” he says. “You read about it and hear stories, but I never experienced anything like it. I was terrified, especially when I was out and my wife was alone trying to get the kids and pets into the car.”
The Haim family bunked with Kerry’s parents, while family members who live in the Haim’s guesthouse were put up elsewhere. A relative in from Israel was also there at the time, and evacuated with just a passport. Not only were her suitcases left behind, so, too, was medicine she needed to take before she could fly home.
“We knew we had to rush because the woman’s flight was on Monday afternoon, so we called Rabbi Mazorov for help,” says Haim. He says that the rabbi immediately spoke to a local doctor, who was able to get the medicine so his family member could keep her scheduled flight.
Afterwards, Haim says, “the rabbi kept calling us to see if we needed anything.”
Special Kiddush for Shabbat
Mazorov was keeping tabs on others as well.
“We know quite a few people in the neighborhood who were affected, specifically in the community of Canyon Country, and who had to be evacuated, so we immediately reached out to them,” says Mazorov. “ThankG‑d, most people have family and friends they can stay with, but we were able to find places for a few people.”
On Monday—when temperatures in Los Angeles exceeded 100 degrees—the rabbi packed his car with water bottles, granola bars, crackers and other kosher snacks, and went to area shelters hoping to be of assistance. “We live in an amazing community where everyone is helping out,” he says, explaining that the “first two places I went to already had more than enough donated water.”
Instead, he took the items to a local fire station.
For those outside of the immediately affected area, the fire presents other concerns. Children, the elderly and those with breathing issues were told to stay indoors because of the heavy smoke, resulting in poor air quality for miles.
The Mazorovs, who have nine children between the ages of one month and 17, heeded that advice not only for their own family, but for the nearly 70 kids at the Gan Israel day camp the couple runs every summer. A trip to a local amusement park was moved to a different location more than 25 miles away.
With Shabbat approaching, Marozov says it will be a special one at theChabad House, with prayers to be said for residents and for those combatting the fires.
“We are having a big kiddush to thank G‑d for saving our homes, and for the fact that we were was protected,” says the rabbi. “We have a few community members who had close calls; the fire came literally 50 or 100 feet from their homes. They are sponsoring the kiddush, and the whole community is going to get together to thank G‑d for protecting us and to thank His messengers, the firefighters, who have truly done a wonderful job.”