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You Too Can Be a Hero

October 29, 2003

Tuesday's front-page photograph in The Times of a boy standing in fire wreckage holding a piece of his ruined bed spoke volumes about the cost of the raging Southern California wildfires.

Despite more favorable weather Tuesday, the flames kept marching up hillsides and across borders -- into Tijuana, up toward Lake Arrowhead, feinting south toward Malibu. Whole San Diego County mountain towns gone, poof.

Even people not in the immediate path of the wildfires are coping with hideous traffic snarls and nasty air quality. Freeways and surface streets, absorbing vehicles from fire-closed roads and the Los Angeles bus strike, are jammed during ever-longer rush "hours." Horns blare, blood pressure rises and no one wants to get out of the air-conditioned car until they can get into the air-conditioned office or home.

There's too much temper out there.

Instead of fuming at the driver who just cut you off from your freeway exit, why not extend a helping hand to the people in serious trouble?

* Start in your own neighborhood. Are there elderly or ill neighbors who may be having trouble breathing? Check on them. With the buses not running in Los Angeles, offer to do some shopping.

* Call the American Red Cross at (800) HELP-NOW or (800) 257-7575 (for Spanish) or go to its regional Web site www.acrossla.org to make a donation of money, goods or time. The organization's volunteers are feeding, housing and counseling displaced fire victims across Southern California. It is a gargantuan task.

* The United Way funds local social service charities, which will be stretched thin for months with housing problems and other fire-caused issues. Go to national.unitedway.org/give and locate your local United Way to offer money or time.

* Check with local homeless shelters and food banks to see what they need and when they need it. Often smaller organizations are flooded with donations of goods during a crisis and can't process them all.

* Animal shelters end up with the pets of fleeing families, from hamsters to horses, as well as animals lost in the panic of evacuations. The Web site www.rescuers.com/rescues/sheltercounties11.asp offers a good locater for local shelters, with phone numbers and Web sites.

Those of us merely caught in mind-numbing traffic are the lucky ones.

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