Those close to the flames could feel the heat, while those far away could smell the smoke, feel the ashes, and witness the sun turn a reddish orange. As those of us witnessed the Fontana fire climb the hill to Lytle Creek, two White men were seen on Saturday morning starting a fire on Old Waterman Canyon Road in San Bernardino.
Before night fall hundreds of homes had been consumed as it started its trek up the mountains headed toward Crestline, Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear and other mountain cities. The Old Fire as it was named by Sunday morning had eaten close to three hundred homes and ran several thousand people out of their dream homes with nothing but the shirts on their backs.
These fires and others were deliberately started by unthinking men who must be caught and punished. Even when we do that it will not bring back the physical presence of family photos, favorite chairs or sofas, special plants around the home, quilts made by hand, music collections, or countless family heirlooms.
The other side of this type of disaster is the racial aspect that goes unnoticed and unreported by the major media. It is important to note that a number of Black families lost homes and all of their possessions. We have received calls from all over the country asking us if there were any Blacks living in these areas.
I will list some of the cities and percentages of Blacks living in them. San Bernardino is comprised of over 16%, Rialto 21%, Fontana 11%, Rancho Cucamonga 8%, Ontario 7%, Highland 11%, Upland 7%, Montclair 6% and Temecula in Riverside County 3%. These cities combined account for over 100,000 Blacks living in the impacted areas.
Yes, Black families were impacted by this fire in a mighty way. This is being said to ensure that when the rebuilding starts with our tax dollars we want our people to be considered along with other victims.
When Oklahoma was bombed, Black victims were considered an afterthought. When 9/11 happened Blacks and Hispanics were an afterthought. When hurricane Floyd ramshackled North Carolina, Blacks were an afterthought when it came to rebuilding and receiving aid to replace their loss. Let us not be like that this time. I mention each of these disasters because I have first hand knowledge.
Close friends in 9/11 are still having difficulty getting help. In Oklahoma the National Newspaper Publishers Association, of which I was first Vice President, visited the site and talked with some victims. In North Carolina it took my brother three years to get our home replaced.
The only things left to cherish after a disaster like this are the memories of days gone by. However within those memories will come the hope and strength to rise again and make a better community.
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