This post can be taken as a word of advice to the wise on how not to behave during a local disaster. This post was prompted by the behavior of certain people and organizations during the Valley Fire here in Northern California, specifically Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties.

I was prompted to write out this post because in the past six days I have seen some pretty reprehensible behavior surrounding this fire disaster that has left thousands displaced/evacuated and hundreds without a home left to go back to when this is all over. There are certain acceptable ways to behave in every day life, and just like regular every day life, there are certain ways to behave during a disaster. Let me outline the proper and improper behaviors here, and you, the reader, can just store this information in the back of your mind to save in case you ever find yourself in this situation.

  1. If you are the owner of a lodging establishment in California, keep this in mind. California (and probably other states as well) has a penal code (Penal Code Section 396) specifically geared toward stopping a practice known as price gouging. Several lodging establishments decided to take advantage of the high demand for rooms when the Valley Fire first broke out on Saturday, September 12. People who had been evacuated from their homes were searching for any shelter that could be had that night. Some business owners must have seen this as a major opportunity to make some extra cash, because at least two motels that I know of for certain raised the prices on their rooms from under $80/night to over $250/night. This is illegal, but more than that, it is immoral. To take advantage of desperate, displaced people during a crisis such as this is disgusting, unscrupulous and reprehensible. The California Attorney General has issued a consumer warning due to the price gouging that has been going on during this disaster. The California penal code prohibits charging a price that exceeds by more than 10% the price of the service or goods before the emergency was declared. The penal code becomes effective the moment a state of emergency is declared. So, first item on What NOT To Do in a Local Crisis is, DON’T GOUGE PRICES FOR GOODS AND SERVICES! The attorney general for California is already planning the prosecution of those businesses that partook in this practice.
  2. The next item on my list saddens me, just the fact that it must be included makes my faith in humanity plummet a bit. Don’t LOOT! We have had several instances of people being arrested here in Lake County for sneaking past the road barriers or going up the mountain back roads to enter the evacuation zones. These people are not residents who wanted to check on their home or pets or livestock. These people are looters. People like these three guys from the Bay Area, who drove all the way up here just to go out and raid the homes of evacuated Lake County residents.
    Mug Shots courtesy of Lake County News and the Lake County Sheriff's Office.
    Mug Shots courtesy of Lake County News and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

    People like these three guys below deserve the harshest of punishments. As if people have not lost enough, then someone breaks into their empty house, ransacks it and takes whatever they want, with the whole neighborhood empty and no one to stop them. Lake County now has law enforcement officers patrolling the fire areas, some officers from different counties have come to offer their support in this.  Also, there are some people who never left their homes when they were told to evacuate, these people have formed a sort of posse up in the fire areas and signs have been hung to warn looters that they are risking their lives to rob fire victims.

  3. Finally, if you are one of the kind people running an evacuation center or maybe organizing donations for evacuees, don’t be a dick to the other people doing the same thing you are doing. It is not a competition for who can get the most supplies or people at their centers, it is a time to help people who are displaced or who have lost all they have. This should go without saying.

    A picture of a sign hung by residents of the Cobb Mountain area.
    A picture of a sign hung by residents of the Cobb Mountain area.

So there you have it, three things NOT to do during a crisis situation in your local area. Basically, be a decent human being and help each other. That all being said, there have been a lot of really good people in the forefront of this crisis, donating food, clothes, blankets, pillows, toys and personal care products as well as space for animals and families to camp while waiting to either be allowed to go home or to start rebuilding their lives. It is just really unfortunate that when an emergency happens, there are so many opportunistic bastards out there ready to take advantage of desperate, traumatized people to benefit themselves.

Links:

Lake County News

Press Democrat – Santa Rosa

Firepocalypse: Part 2 – A Raven’s writing desk

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