California Domestic Workers Coalition

Teresa Cotsirilos

In October 2019, a stretch of dry weather and strong winds sparked dozens of wildfires across California, killing three people and destroying hundreds of homes. For the low-wage immigrants who work in those homes, fire season brings its own dangers.

Housekeepers and gardeners lose jobs they rely on, and some workers are recruited for new jobs that could jeopardize their health. This month, domestic workers are fighting for new legislation that could change that.

Sandra found out she had lost her job on Facebook. She cleans houses in Malibu for a living, and when the Woolsey Fire started in 2018, she spent days anxiously checking the news, wondering what was happening to her client base. A few days into the disaster, one of her favorite employers posted a few pictures of her home.

“Her house had burned down completely,” Sandra says. She asked KALW to refer to her by her first name only, out of fear that speaking to the press could hurt her future job prospects. “The important thing is that everyone’s okay.”

The Woolsey Fire burned through Malibu for almost two months. Sandra couldn’t work and says money started drying up fast. “I was having trouble with bills,” she says, “I was struggling with basics like food and rent.”

So when another employer of Sandra’s got in touch with her, she was relieved. She says it was a family with a nice little girl she knew, who lived in a huge house in Malibu on the mountain.