Minooka grad reports on California wildfires

Dennis Valera, a 2010 MCHS graduate, reports on California wildfires for KSEE24/CBS47 in Fresno.

courtesy of Dennis Valera

Dennis Valera, a 2010 MCHS graduate, reports on California wildfires for KSEE24/CBS47 in Fresno.

“Living in California, you kinda get used to the fire season and the smoky sky they cause. However, this year, this is the longest our sky and air quality has been so hazardous. It’s like smelling a campfire all the time,” Dennis Valera, a news reporter who is covering the wildfires, said. 

Valera, or as he goes by, “D.J.,” is a 2010 graduate from MCHS. He is a former editor-in-chief of the Peace Pipe Chatter and graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2014, receiving his bachelor degree in journalism.

However, he has traded the cornfields of Minooka for the palm trees that line the streets of California. He is now a news reporter for KSEE24/CBS47, a local news station in Fresno and the Central Valley area.

The countless photographs of neon orange skies and vast destruction throughout the state of California that cover all of our social media timelines will leave most people in shock. Valera has been getting “right up to where the crews are and where the flames are raging.”

According to Valera, the aspect that makes this fire season so drastically different is “the lack of a break between the fires — and every fire has come close to or surpassed the six-figure mark.” 

In 2020, there have been over 7,718 fire incidents this wildfire season alone throughout California, according to the Center of Disaster Philanthropy. As of now, 3.2 million acres of land have been burned throughout California, an area larger than the state of Connecticut.

With wildfires seemingly getting more and more intense year after year and temperatures rising across the globe, it leaves most to wonder, what kind of destruction from these natural disasters will happen in the future?

This is not the first wildfire season that Valera has reported on, and at least so far, is not the worst one he has experienced … yet.

According to Valera, “A couple years ago, I covered the deadliest wildfire in state history, the Camp Fire in Butte County,” where at least 86 people died, “and it’s starting to feel like that. I’m just happy this year’s are, so far, nowhere near as deadly as that one.”

Despite the situation in California being grim with people losing their livelihoods and everything they have worked for, Valera has said it’s not all depressing.

“Whenever I cover a disaster or any tragedy, the strength of the communities they happen in always shine through. It’s amazing to always see how people rally together to help each other out,” he said. 

At this point if you’re interested in helping with the victims affected by the wildfires in California, any donations towards charities are the best thing to do right now. Since the fire’s are still burning, the amount of shear damage is still unknown

Valera has been able to tell stories about how communities, families, neighbors, and friends have come together throughout this devastating fire season. Even after losing everything, the people he interviews are “always able to smile. Every single time.”