The deadliest California fire in 85 years is inciting new conversations for communicators trying to reach scared and vulnerable audiences.
The Camp Fire has destroyed more than 6,000 homes and burned 111,000 acres, making it the most destructive fire in state history. As rescue workers try to help displaced people and Californians come to terms with yet another disaster, communicators have been working hard to deliver their messages.
Many organizations use online newsrooms to share updates and post news releases for easy access. The City of Malibu turned to its newsroom to talk directly to residents about the massive blaze threatening that area.
The mayor addressed constituents in a post, which read in part:
As we enter into the fourth full day of the Woolsey Fire, the entire City of Malibu still remains under mandatory evacuation. We urge those who have not yet evacuated to get out of the City now. We know this is an extremely stressful time, and our primary concern is for your safety. Be vigilant and heed the direction of our public safety officials, which will help them do their work to protect your homes.
Other updates have included road closures, advisories and evacuation center locations.
Social media outreach
On Twitter, people have shared images of the damage. Government accounts are offering resources for people looking for missing relatives and friends.
Concerned family and friends can also search the list of those who have registered as “safe and well” by clicking on the “Search Registrants” button.
— Butte County, CA (@CountyofButte) November 8, 2018
Some offer direct assistance:
#CAMPFIRE White Ranch Events in #chicoca is available, we have a large parking lot for trailers or campers. Bathroom facilities. Please contact us if you need a place to shower, a meal, anything. (Quickest response time if you text 530-514-4919 or 530-514-3059. )
— Chico Chamber (@ChicoChamber) November 8, 2018
Others wait for answers:
My aunt and uncle are here. They are in their mid nineties. I can’t find a way to communicate with them. My cousin who is also elderly is their only escape. I’m so worried. pic.twitter.com/GLklgwgVVA
— Save The Poors (@Juli_Oates) November 8, 2018
Has anyone heard from @OrlandCa1? I think he is in the #CampFire in #ButteCounty and he has not responded all day. Pray for his safety and his family. They are evacuating the whole town and people are missing. Paradise is a tinderbox of dry pine trees.
— Wiretapped Patriot❌ (@T64Pamela) November 9, 2018
Some are sharing fundraising campaigns to aid rebuilding efforts:
Please share https://t.co/S7YBenTQ5f
— Paradise Rotary Club (@paradiserotary) November 11, 2018
Amid unified efforts, divisive talk
Unfortunately, the losses of life, property and nature were fuel—for some—for political posturing.
President Donald Trump, who often uses his Twitter account to speak directly to his followers, fanned the flames when talking about the fire’s impact. He called on people in the fire’s path to evacuate and blamed the tragedy on poor forest management.
More than 4,000 are fighting the Camp and Woolsey Fires in California that have burned over 170,000 acres. Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated, and the families of the 11 who have died. The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
These California fires are expanding very, very quickly (in some cases 80-100 acres a minute). If people don’t evacuate quickly, they risk being overtaken by the fire. Please listen to evacuation orders from State and local officials!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2018
When Trump threatened on Twitter to revoke federal funding, California’s governor responded.
On Sunday, California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office fired back, calling the president’s tweet “inane and uninformed.”
“Our focus is on the Californians impacted by these fires and the first responders and firefighters working around the clock to save lives and property — not on the president’s inane and uninformed tweets,” Evan Westrup, the governor’s press secretary, told ABC News.
The governor linked the fire to the ravages of climate change.
“This is not the new normal, this is the new abnormal. And this new abnormal will continue certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years. Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify,” Brown said. “We have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life, so we’ve got to pull together.”
“We’re dealing with existential conditions that, once they take off, the certain amount of dryness in the vegetation and the soil and the air, then the winds get up 50, 60 miles an hour, this is what happens,” Brown said. “We’re in a new abnormal. Things like this will be a part of our future.”
Firefighters were more forceful in a rebuke of Trump’s messages.
“His comments are reckless and insulting to the firefighters and people being affected,” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
The president of the California Professional Firefighters said the message is an attack on some of the people fighting the devastating fires.
“The President’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines,” Brian K. Rice said.
“In my view, this shameful attack on California is an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines.”
How are you talking about the deadly California fires, Ragan/PR Daily readers?