How to Help Those Affected by California Wildfires

Published on October 12, 2017 · Last updated November 17, 2020
A man rides a bicycle with his dog in front of homes destroyed by fires in Santa Rosa, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The fires ripping through California’s North Bay region have become some of the most destructive in state history. Authorities say the blazes have now killed at least 27 people, destroyed 3,500 structures, and displaced thousands of residents and their pets.

Firefighters are currently battling at least 22 ongoing fires across more than 265 square miles, according to Cal Fire, and gusty weather expected for Thursday means the situation could grow even worse.

Among those hit hardest by the fires are hundreds of cannabis growers, many of whom have lost entire crops and, in some cases, their homes. Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, estimates that damages to crops and property could total hundreds of millions of dollars, calling it the “worst year on record” for crop loss. And unlike most other California farmers, cannabis growers generally don’t have access to crop insurance.

Wildfire burned through part of a Sonoma County medical cannabis grow managed by the San Francisco dispensary SPARC. (Photo courtesy of Erich Pearson, SPARC)

While the numbers are overwhelming, there are plenty of ways to make a positive difference. At the bottom of this article is a list of ways to help, either through volunteering or donations. Some aid efforts target the cannabis community specifically, but most are aimed at helping rebuild the region as a whole.

Cannabis-Specific Relief

CalGrowers Wildfire Relief Fund

The CalGrowers Wildfire Relief Fund, launched by California Growers Association Executive Director Hezekiah Allen, pledges that “100% of donations will be used for fire disaster relief and recovery.”

Update: The campaign has been suspended as the result of payment processors refusing to process cannabis-related donations. A replacement campaign has since been set up through a separate service.

Other Crowdfunding

A number of GoFundMe campaigns have been launched by North Bay residents and friends to help buoy the region’s cannabis growers, including Farmers Helping Farmers and Cannafam/NorCal Fire Victims.

Please post other recovery efforts in the comments section at the bottom of this article!

Update: A number of payment processors have stopped processing donations earmarked for wildfire victims from the cannabis industry, saying the connection to cannabis violates their terms of service. Please check with the crowdfunding organizer to ensure you route payments correctly.

General Relief

Monetary Donations

For those wanting to give to more traditional aid organizations, both the United Way and the Red Cross are accepting donations. (You can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a one-time $10 donation.)

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For those who’d prefer to give their time, the Red Cross has a volunteer sign-in sheet posted here. In Sonoma County, would-be volunteers can call 707-573-3399.

The Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit leadership has reportedly also been called in to help with aid efforts. The group’s website will let you donate or register to volunteer.

Dropping off Donations

Many shelters reportedly already have sufficient supplies, so monetary donations may be best. But for those interested in dropping off items (or for affected individuals in need), a number of local websites have posted a list of relevant sites. Consult relief pages at the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, or NBC Bay Area for more information.

Evacuation Centers

The map below has at least a partial list of evacuation centers that have been set up to accommodate people displaced by the fire. The San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, and NBC Bay Area each have more extensive lists that include a number of animal shelters across the North Bay.

Some hotels are offering special rates to help fire evacuees. A list of participating hotels is available through the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau.

More Information

If you’re on the lookout for current conditions, the Press Democrat has a live map of fires (and road closures) in Sonoma and Napa counties. Another map, at the bottom of KQED’s fire coverage, shows National Weather Service fire weather warnings in addition to the fires themselves.

Can’t Help? Don’t Hinder!

If you’re unable to help, at least avoid getting in the way of responders. Authorities are asking people not to call emergency services unless they see active, unattended flames or are reporting a life-threatening situation. Drivers should also stay off the roads, if possible, to avoid blocking or slowing emergency vehicles or evacuees.

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Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin
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