CAUSE members and farmworkers
Members of CAUSE hand out masks to farmworkers in Ventura. (Photo: Courtesy of Amelia Realzola / CAUSE)

Last winter, the Thomas Wildfire raged through California’s Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Realzola: “It caused a lot of smoke, and I’m talking like toxic, really heavy, thick plumes of smoke and ash.”

Amelia Realzola was a high school senior at the time.

Realzola: “Schools were being canceled because that’s how bad the air quality was, but there were field workers, you know immigrant farm workers, out here working in these dangerous conditions. These farm workers were out here either just using a bandana to try to protect themselves from the smoke or using the blue medical masks, which doesn’t protect them at all from the carcinogens and the toxins in the smoke.”

Realzola, whose two uncles are farm workers, was outraged.

Realzola: “It was just really upsetting to see that these people – you know my people – were being taken advantage of.”

So as part of an environmental justice group called CAUSE, Realzola helped hand out special N95 masks to better protect the workers.

She says most people appreciated their efforts, but a few supervisors seemed dismissive. So Realzola says as wildfires grow more dangerous, it’s important to protect workers not only through education and outreach, but with policy and enforcement.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.