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Virginians help victims of California wildfires: ‘Itʼs so thick and you can taste it’

RICHMOND, Va. -- As the death toll continues to climb from the Camp Fire, which has obliterated more structures and lives than any previous fire in California, some Central Virginia organizations are heading to the Golden State to help.

“To see what it is now, itʼs kind of like a sea of black ash," Jonathan McNamara with the American Red Cross said on Saturday. "It just makes you take a step back and think what these people must have been going through.”

McNamara traveled more than 2000 miles from Richmond to southern California to help families who have lost their homes and all of their personal belongings in a string of recent wildfires in the state.

“Just talking to the families impacted, they had one to two minutes max, because it was traveling at such a fast rate and they got into their cars to leave, and some of them told us their car tires were exploding as they were trying to get away,” McNamara said.

The nearly 100,000-acre Woolsey Fire has been burning for more than week, claimed three lives and destroyed thousands of homes. Firefighters are continuing to make progress and officials confirmed Saturday morning that 82-percent of the flames have been contained.

“After spending some time out in the field, even with a mask on, you could literally wipe off the debris on your forehead," McNamara said. "It was under your fingernails because itʼs in the air and itʼs so thick and you can taste it from 40 to 50 miles away. You could actually see clouds that look like fog filled with smoke and that would turn the light into night.”

Red Cross volunteers have set up shelters and are providing families with food and clothing. Not only are volunteers providing relief, but theyʼre looking for family members who have been reported missing.

“People are still looking for loved ones, colleagues, coworkers -- and I think itʼs a real illustration that we have not seen the worst of it and potentially the death toll and other things from there," McNamara said. "...What we do is going to be very important to build what we do in the days to come.”

If you would like to help the families who have been impacted by the wildfires, you can make a $10 donation by texting “CA WILDFIRES” to 90999 or if you interested in becoming a volunteer, click here for more information.