Surviving California’s Historic Wildfires

By Alex Ghenis

Lake Kowell didn’t have long to respond when the Tubbs Fire reached her Northern California home in October 2017. The evening of October 8, Kowell, a T11 para, saw far-off flames and heard chimes clanging in strong winds. Around midnight someone pounded on her front door and told her to evacuate. “Smoke and planes were everywhere,” she says. By the time she rolled away from her house, everything had changed. “It was like Mordor.”

Fortunately, Kowell had an emergency plan, which included a bag with supplies to last about a week, connections with neighbors to help with evacuation, her own wheelchair van for transportation and a place to stay with family in nearby Petaluma. A strong network of friends and neighbors helped her through the disaster. “I didn’t feel afraid,” she says, “I felt supported.”

Kowell credits the skills she learned living with a spinal cord injury for helping her stay calm during the disaster and recovery. “When something traumatic happens, it changes your whole perspective,” she says. “You just do what you have to do to survive.”

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