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Voice of OC — a small nonprofit team of a few journalists — went up against the state’s best newspapers and won first place for best wildfire coverage in the 2020 year of devastating fires up and down California.

Reporters Nick Gerda, Hosam Elattar and Noah Biesiada built a three-part series in December that illustrated missteps before blazing fires erupted across OC’s canyons and the desolate open areas left behind.

Voice of OC’s few reporters broke ahead of dozens of other news outlets for the wildfire award win — even ahead of the historic Sacramento Bee — in the California News Publishers Association contest. Judges said this of the series:

“A good job of uncovering and illuminating city and county government issues faced during last year’s wildfires.”

The first story by Noah Biesiada looked at how Orange County residents witnessed three wildfires in three months of 2020, and while no lives were lost, the event served as a sobering reminder of serious communication problems long present in the county’s emergency communication system.  

The second story by Hosam Elattar examined why and how Chino Hills State Park keeps burning year after year with over 60% of the park burning in the Blue Ridge Fire.

And the third story by Nick Gerda revealed how activists warned against approving homes above Yorba Linda because of previous wildfires. They did it anyway and the results were disastrous.

While Voice of OC’s budget is small, Voice of OC journalists took home a record 18 wins this year. This is the third year in which Voice of OC, a digital outlet, was included in the California News Publishers Association awards contest, originally created for traditional newspapers.

And remember, this award-winning work at Voice of OC comes to you free-of-charge, with no advertising disrupting the experience. But that also means we rely on your support to sustain and expand our efforts — please become a donor today.

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