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3 Lessons Learned from the California Wildfires

Insights from surviving California's largest wildfire in recorded history.

California survived the largest wildfire in recorded history. My town of Ojai is located in the center of it all. For those who have been touched by Hurricane Harvey, Irma, or the fires in Northern California, you already know that Mother Nature’s force can easily topple human infrastructure in a moment’s notice. While the news cycles move on to the next political drama, those who live through a natural disaster know it takes years to recover, and that we will never be the same.

When the fire began on the December 4th, I was in New York presenting Ojai author, Michaela Boehm’s book, The Wild Woman Way. I woke up early and emailed her to ask one last question before I’d present her book to our sales team. I didn’t expect her response to be, “I’ve just lost everything, my home burned down, the barns burned, the animals are gone.” She then went on to explain in three eloquent paragraphs the answer to my question about her book. I was stunned. I quickly called my son and mom who were in our home just fifteen miles from where Michaela’s burned down and got them to evacuate. Within a few hours, the fire spread through town and burned right up to the edge of our yard.

There are more stories like this than I can possibly write here, but here are some facts: Thomas is currently the third largest wildfire in California history. At its peak, it burned a football field a second as it tore through homes, farms, my daughter’s school and over 157 homes in Ojai and 600 structures in total. Close friends have lost everything they owned. Our community has forever been changed. The air is toxic and the EPA has forced schools to shut down. While the world keeps spinning, time here has stopped, and we’ve all gotten used to wearing face mask ventilators—it looks like Armageddon.

While we’re still reeling, I’ve had some powerful insights into human nature, our drive to help others, and our lack of infrastructure to handle climate change. Enliven author, Josh Tickell is editing his film Kiss the Ground, about how to reverse climate change, while he’s become a climate refugee. Dear friends and colleagues, Mikki and Nadia Willis of conscious media company, Elevate Studios, lost their home and film studio in the flames.

How did they react? What were the first things they did?

Michaela teaches embodiment, and she has reacted with a clear mind and swift movement to find any remaining animals she had on her farm. I have seen her rally amidst the rubble that was once her sanctuary. She’s the real deal, I know it now beyond measure. (MichaelaBoehm.com)

Mikki and Nadia have made a short film about the fire and are already back in production helping the water protectors in North Dakota fight a bogus lawsuit.

Josh and Rebecca Tickell have borrowed a home in LA and are hard at work editing Kiss the Ground for the Tribeca film festival deadline. Nadia was there to take Rebecca’s son to the hospital in the midst of finding a place to live after their home burned to the ground.

How did the local businesses respond?

There were 7,000 firefighters that saved our town. The Ojai Beverage Company, Jim and Rob’s, and other local restaurants that have stayed open have been feeding them for free. Vons, a chain store, gave free food and coffee to first responders and continues to feed firefighters for free. Starbucks wouldn’t charge anyone in uniform. There are free masks and water at every public and retail location. My friends at AZU have allowed me to use their restaurant as a community gathering space to hold our response meetings. The responses of generosity, love, and compassion have been simply breathtaking.

We here at ZhenaTV started www.OjaiRelief.com. My friend James organized a technology platform that connects people who lost their homes with people offering homes and supplies. We have mobilized faster than I ever thought was possible. We have raised tens of thousands for Help of Ojai, and matched people with homes, food, jobs, clothes, and insurance claim help.

Here are the three things I have learned about success through this tragedy that I want to share with you:

1. Nature doesn’t care if you believe in climate change or not. She’s the boss. Whatever you decide to do in your life, you must have an environmental stewardship plan attached. Be successful in life by preparing yourself for mother nature’s call.

2. All that stuff you buy? It really means nothing. When my mom asked me what to grab from our home, I said, “The kids and the animals, leave the rest to God.” I spend a lot of time fluffing, decorating, and creating beauty around my home—but at the critical moment of evacuation, those things didn’t register on any values scale. While it’s fun to “nest,” I have found the better choice is to have less to “lose.” There is little else that matters than those you love.

3. People’s true colors show in times of crisis. This is an obvious one. But really, I have never seen the people in my community take action as I have seen in the last week. We are holding space for each other, making eye contact, offering our homes and feeding one another. In times of crisis, success is in helping others. Remember, with a mission to serve, you cannot fail. Even those who have lost there homes, like Mikki and Nadia, have been activating the community and helping others—it’s set the tone on how to respond to crises.

And some bonus lessons on preparation: Remember that cell towers, electricity and internet will go down. Get yourself a land line again, write down people’s numbers. Know your neighbors’ names and street names. The cell towers in Ojai had gotten burned so there was no way to communicate. We’d been too familiar with town that we didn’t even know the street names to direct our firefighters. Also, get insurance. Get binders added to your insurance policy.

And beyond these things, become active in saving our environment from further degradation. We need your voice, we need your hands, we need your heart and mind. Be relentless in protecting nature.

And if you want to help, please visit our site: www.OjaiRelief.com – it will guide you. Thank-you dear ones, I send you love from the depths of my being, and look forward to serving your heart and soul with inspiration in 2018.

Comment on my blog – I’d love to hear what you have learned from the Thomas Fire, or your own experience with Mother Nature.

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