When the fires started burning here in Sonoma County recently, I thought back to 2018, the last time my city of Santa Rosa was in flames.
My family and I packed our bags and were ready to evacuate, just like we did last time. During the last round of fires, I came back to Santa Rosa as soon as the fires had been extinguished. I got hired to clean homes that had been evacuated by their owners, houses that were full of smoke and ash.
The owners wanted me to clean them up before they returned. I knew it might be dangerous, but after more than three weeks without work, my family needed the money.
I cleaned houses for two weeks, and I began to feel sick. My skin became dry and itchy, my eyes burned, and I got nose bleeds. I developed headaches and breathing problems that lasted for months, even after I had stopped cleaning houses. My employers did not give me any protective equipment or explain the health hazards of the job.