AS hot, wind-fed wildfires swirled around her town in early September, Darlene Simmons, 76, was busy cooking spaghetti in her kitchen. As a resident of Middletown, a small town in Northern California, she had been through wildfires before. But her home, where she had lived for 45 years, had never been harmed.
So Ms. Simmons was staying put — until a police officer knocked on the door. He told her that she must leave immediately. She grabbed her medications and an address book, but was forced, reluctantly, to leave everything else behind, including her cane and family photos.
“I’m glad that I was forced to leave,” said Ms. Simmons, who was near tears as she recalled the day. “I could hear propane tanks exploding as I drove away.”
That night, Ms. Simmons’s house burned down. The wildfire, one of the worst in California history, bent her refrigerator in half and melted metal. Her entire block was reduced to ashes.
Natural disasters, which appear to be on the rise in part because of climate change, are especially hard for older adults. They are particularly vulnerable because many have chronic illnesses that are worsened during the heat of a fire or the high water of a flood. And many are understandably reluctant to leave homes that hold so much history.