Ian D. Jones
The recent – and as of this writing, ongoing – fires burning across the state hit rather close to home for me when Christina Hanson, a Santa Rosa resident lost her life in the Tubbs fire. She wasn’t a relative or friend, but according to KTVU and other sources, she had spina bifida, the same disability I was born with.
I don’t know the circumstances of her death, but I imagine she was essentially blocked in by the fire and was eventually overcome by smoke. Her death really made me think: if I were in the same situation, would I meet the same fate, largely because of my mobility impairment?
On the other hand, I thought of Karl Mondon’s (a photojournalist on the San Jose Mercury News) photo of the aftermath of the Tubbs fire. The ghostly image depicts a wheelchair next to a burnt-out shell of a car, leading the viewer to question the whereabouts of the wheelchair user. The good news is she escaped the fire, with the help of a policeman.
But with all the chaos that surrounds disasters like wildfires, escape isn’t a guarantee for anyone. It’s easy for anyone to get lost in the confusion. Being disabled adds an extra risk. According to the National Fire Prevention Association, “physical disability was identified as a contributing factor in an estimated … 15% of U.S. home fire deaths per year during 2007-2011 – and, as it’s been mentioned in this column before, the disabled make up approximately 19% of the U.S. population. I can only infer that most of the fire related deaths are those of disabled people.
We clearly, as a society, need to put our heads together and think about how to solve this, because nearly a quarter of the population is at risk. The problem is, I’m not exactly sure how we can fix the problem. There are safety guidelines, of course, but I wonder if they go far enough. My hunch is, they don’t, otherwise Ms. Hanson might still be alive.
I never really give any of this much regular thought, honestly. The most recent time was when the campus had the gun scare a couple of weeks ago. While I sat in the library with the lights out, it gave me plenty of time to reflect on how all sorts of disasters might impact me, if I were involved. I went through a similar reflection after 9/11. It wasn’t a fun mental process, but everyone should be prepared.