By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Ammar Campa-Najjar watches as Valley Fire encroaches on his community
September 6, 2020 (San Diego’s East County)7:30 p.m. – As the Valley Fire chars a devastating swath across the 50th Congressional district, scorching over 5,500 acres and forcing evacuations in many communities, the two candidates vying to represent the district have responded differently – one doing little to assist those in need, the other retweeting dozens of messages and rolling up his sleeves to help others – even after evacuating his own family.
Darrell Issa, who lives in North County outside of the district he hopes to represent, retweeted just three messages about the fire—the last over 12 hours ago. The messages included an early evacuation order 23 hours ago, but no updates when several broad, new evacuation orders were issued. He retweeted one of several road closure announcements, as well as a notice on how to get help evacuating large animals.
Ammar Campa-Najjar, by contrast, took actions personally to help others, organizing relief efforts and posting several dozen social media updates on the fire-- despite being left without power and evacuating his own family from the fire threatening his Jamul home.
The two are vying to fill the seat vacated by Duncan Hunter, who has been sentenced to prison for diverting $250,000 in campaign finance donations to personal use, but has not yet begun his sentence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Campa-Najjar tweeted that electricity at his residence was shut off during 109 degree heat and voiced anger with other residents over failed electricity policies that led to blackouts while a fire is raging. “Literally going to sit in the car for AC with my stepdad who just had surgery,” he added.
Soon after, Campa-Najjar could see the fire from his home. Then late last night he tweeted, “Glad we’re all safely evacuated, but I’ll be absolutely heartbroken if we lose the home…My heart is with those families who’ve lost everything. If you’re one of these families, please let me know how I can help.”
Repeatedly he offered to personally assist anyone in need, posting his cell phone number 619 721-5148 and encouraging people to text him.. In another post, he told anyone in the Valley Fire, “Call if you, your loved ones or pets need help.” He also urged anyone who wanted to assist in helping others to contact him.
In another post, he wrote, “We take care of our own in #CA50. Visited eva point this morning, met a man who lost livestock in #ValleyFire. WE donated alfalfa hay to feed his horses.” The tweet included a phot of Campa-Najjar hoisting a sack of feed over his shoulder and loading it into the fire survivor’s pickup truck.
Despite evacuating his own household, Campa-Najjar also took the time to send several tweets updating readers on evacuations, shelters, and tips for those in the fire’s path or facing power outages.
He shared concerns of other residents, such as Teri Gray, who voiced frustration over having no power, no internet, and no water, stating, “We have no way to defend ourselves from the fire.”
He also thanked firefighters and agencies that were providing information and aid for the community.
Ironically, in an interview on KUSI just one day before the Valley Fire began, Campa-Najjar indicated that making sure the 50th district has adequate resources to combat wildfires will be one of his top priorities if elected.
On Facebook, Darrell Issa made one post about the Valley Fire, a day ago. He wrote, “I'm watching the smoke and haze roll in from the fires and hoping everyone is safe tonight. I'm monitoring the wildfire in Alpine closely. Residents living in Lawson Valley/ Carveacre are under an evacuation order and should proceed immediately to either Steele Canyon High School at 12440 Campo Rd. Spring Valley or Joan MacQueen Middle School at 2001 Tavern Road, Alpine.A small number of residents in the area may also experience power outages.”
Instead of offering his own phone number for those seeking help, Issa posted,”If you need emergency assistance, call 911.”
Campa-Najjar made numerous posts on Facebook, providing timely information for those in the path of the fire. Unlike Issa, who did not respond to comments from constituents, Campa-Najjar engaged in conversations with some who responded to his posts.
His actions drew praise from some grateful residents such as Allison Smoley, who wrote, “Thank you for your community service to those who you hope to service in office! You show by your ACTIONS that your words match your deeds.”
Grandstanding can kill people
It depends what you need.
911 is supposed to be reserved for immediate life-threatening emergencies. Of course you should call 911 if you need help to evacuate from a fire right now.
If you need help to haul hay for your animals or have other specific needs that are not immediate human life threatening situations, then sometimes other outlets are more helpful. Through the years we have reporting on many efforts led by community members to get help with a wide variety of needs during the fire. It's not grandstanding to sincerely offer to help and roll up your own sleeves to do so. We've seen many animals saved thanks to volunteers. We've seen many families' trauma lessened beause volunteers helped round up what they needed immediately -- such as a tricycle for a toddler whose home burned (the one thing a parent requested), people who need help to replace groceries or belongings lost, or to locate family members displaced, or give a ride to someone without a car. These are areas where neighbors often pitch in to help neighbors.
GOOD WORK BY ECM!
This story links the coming election and the fires, two important issues. Also, original research is presented. This story is an award winner!