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California, oh man — land of opportunity, of sunshine, of warm sandy beaches, of snow-capped peaks. California. Land of vast cities, quiet suburbs, quaint rural farming communities. California, California, oh man, California.

Land of smoke, land of fire. Land of citizens scattered about the state, homes burned to the ground, ashes gently swooping down like charred bird feathers from the monotonous grey sky.

My name is Liam Hancock, and I once lived in that postcard California. That kind of place where crystal clear lakes could thrive with colorful little fish, or where ocean waves could roar into salty air. But that was a while ago, I suppose. Back then, I was only nine, ten years old with nothing to worry about but grade school crushes and particularly bothersome video game trends.

2017.

Three years ago, California was thrown into a caliber of disaster that it hadn’t faced in nearly one hundred years since the San Francisco Earthquake. Nearly 3 million citizens—real, living people—plunged into chaos. We waved goodbye to any sense of normalcy we’d ever had before, along with any manageable AQI.

Beautiful wine country and many other significant locations were set ablaze. I watched as cities I’d once loved burned to nothing but ash in the matted dirt. And the smoke - there was ample smoke, and not the good kind either. Not the midnight-on-a-fantastic-camping-trip-campfire kind of smoke. The kind of smoke that hovered midair and tainted everything grey and dried out my throat and filtered it’s stench of char and gasoline anywhere it could manage to.

2017 left thousands of lives and homes destroyed beyond repair, and even though it has been voided from news networks, the effects are still real here in California. It takes years and years of intense effort for both the environment and the people to mend their scars, if only that. Unfortunately, nature waits for nothing and 2020 has thrown us yet another curveball.

Just last week, my sister and I were awoken to a recently off-limits sight here in the suburbs of San Francisco—lightning. It was an indescribable feeling to watch sheer electricity arcing across a morning sky. We ate up almost all of our morning in an attempt to catch video or photo evidence so our parents couldn’t disprove us. Not soon after, though, we heard the wail of sirens racing down the main avenue adjacent to our townhome.

“Maybe it’s just a police call,” I said after a moment of uncomfortable silence.

My sister chewed her lip, eyes glued to the sky. “Yeah,” she replied after an even longer period of even more uncomfortable silence. “Yeah, maybe that’s what it is.”

A good couple minutes later, our parents arose and herded the two of us back inside. The entire day, I sat riveted near our french window as the smoke reliably fell from the sky along with thick grey ashes. I repeatedly checked the fire location feeds on my tablet throughout the day to discover that we were soon to be completely surrounded by wildfires.

Complexes, they call them, aroused by the recent lightning strikes throughout California. And my family is in the red. And so are the millions of other families around us. People. Living, breathing people. Once again, our lives are all at risk. Our lives are in the red.

So this is a plea from California.

And if you’re reading this, then you can help. You already have. States from across the nation have sent in their own brave teams of firefighters to aid ours in the complex nearest to me, the SCU Complex, which has now scorched nearly 35,000 acres of my own county and counties nearby.

My name is Liam Hancock, full name Liam Patrick Hancock. Call me Liam for short, it’s a bit less of a mouthful. I love to write, perform, and sing. I have a special fascination with roller coasters, all shapes and sizes (although I’m way too scared to ride most of them). I’m twelve years old, almost thirteen, but of course it doesn’t quite feel like it yet. I’ve got two pets, a dog and a cat, and I both love them till the ends of the earth.

That’s my own story, but don’t be fooled. There are countless other stories that need to be read, that need to be appreciated. Preserved. So I beg of you to remember that there are people in the red. California isn’t just a land mass, it isn’t just a state on fire. There are people on fire here as well. Maybe not physically, but we’re watching the places we know and love be destroyed. We’re on fire. We’re putting up our strongest fight possible, and we know you are putting up yours.

So, in support of our firefighters, of our stories, of the families in The Red Zones - please spread this message to the folks you know. Because, after all, every single person can make a difference. All you have to do is post: #RedZoneStrong on your own social media accounts to keep our days bright regardless of the AQI.

There it is: #RedZoneStrong is all it takes to keep us going. Go right now, share it with the world. This is a plea. A plea from California.

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