TEL AVIV – Israeli NGO IsraAID has dispatched an emergency response team to California to assist communities impacted by the devastating wildfires that have so far killed 80 people and destroyed 14,000 buildings.
The two fires, which have been ranked the deadliest in California’s history, have torched 250,000 acres of land between them.
IsraAid has said it will “conduct a needs assessment of the population in the affected area, promote community resilience and recovery, and distribute relief items to families currently staying in temporary accommodation after losing their homes in the fires,” according to a statement from the group.
A team of four Israelis had already been deployed on the ground and will set up operations in Chico, which has become a tent city since the blazes erupted 10 days ago.
“We’ve seen a lot of disaster zones over the years, but this is a whole different level of devastation. Everything has been burned to the ground, and there are so many people still missing,” Yotam Polizer, co-CEO of IsraAID, told ISRAEL21c.
“The search and rescue teams aren’t looking for survivors, they are looking for remains. From a psychological perspective it’s on a whole different scale. When we talk to local people we see they are getting support, but there’s very little psycho-social support there. That’s where we are planning to focus our efforts,” he said.
IsraAID’s rescue teams will include Israeli and US-based mental health specialists, who will coordinate with partner organizations on the ground to aid devastated communities and get them on the path to rehabilitation. IsraAID teams are also comprised of professional and volunteer medics, search and rescue squads, post-trauma experts and community mobilizers.
“We were devastated by the tragedy of these fires in California,” said Polizer. “It’s a place very close to our hearts. We have an office there, lots of staff members and volunteers. A lot of local people asked that we come and help. We are planning to be there to support the people as long as we are needed.”
In October of last year, IsraAID sent a team of aid workers to Napa Valley in the wake of wildfires that claimed 44 lives and caused $14.5 billion in damages.