November 8th is a day that will forever be etched in my memory. It was a day just like the day I’m writing this article when I was scheduled to be in for work and something was out of sorts. I had no energy and no motivation to do much of anything. Later that morning I got a call from my Mom that there was a fire up in our home town of Paradise. What I thought was a huge storm cloud was actually a huge cloud of smoke!
Around 12 that same day I got a phone call from some friends who had evacuated and requested to come visit. We tuned into the news to see a fire that continued to grow in size and which eventually would take out much of the town of Paradise and lower Magalia.
In the days and weeks that passed I noticed a similar reaction to what I and others were experiencing, a tremendous feeling of depression and loss. Although I wasn’t directly affected by the fire, my childhood home, the one I grew up in, as well as countless other friends and others who lost their homes had a tremendous affect upon me.
One of the things I found helped best was taking action to help others who were experiencing what I was going through. I went to work the following week at the evacuation center my church had set up. I was able to help process clothes, visit with guests and direct them to services we had available including clothing, food, and toiletries. Giving in this way took the focus off myself and placed it squarely on helping others. As one of my friends Dr. Rob Reeve, who was affected by the fires recently put it, “Don’t ask what I lost from the fire, but instead what I have gained.” He went on to share, “what really made an impression upon me and my wife is the generous donations from virtual strangers.”
For anyone who has or will experience extreme loss and trauma like those from the recent fires in Northern CA my best advice is to go find somewhere to serve in your community. Our church later realized that with the closeness in proximity to Christmas, many families were going to be in need of help and aide to provide needed gifts. On December 22nd my church was able to serve over 80 families (over 200 individuals who had been affected directly by the Camp Fire.
I was able to volunteer one night in getting people signed up for our Christmas give away. There was a couple that came in that were so grateful for the services we were offering! Like many others I had met and would yet encounter, they had lost everything. Imagine the simplest thing you take for granted having and realizing you no longer have it because it got burned. In their case it was a brand new crockpot that was just barely opened days before the fire. Hearing this gave me such an added appreciation for the small things I use and take for granted every day.
Seeing such an outpouring of love to those that like me were experiencing a great feeling of loss was truly inspirational and healing. While I was working at the evacuation center, a trailer that was loaded with supplies had arrived all the way from Idaho! They had travelled nearly 1,000 miles to lend much needed aide!
As mentioned earlier, help came from so many sources. It came from people who ran the Humane Society offering food and supplies to pets affected by the fire. It came from the many generous donations of clothing and food across our entire community and county. Help came in the countless food banks, evacuation centers and the countless volunteers who ran them.
One of the biggest challenges I have observed from everyone affected was the need to secure permanent housing. Many I know resorted to staying in shelters or with close friends as housing was simply not available. Some people I know had to move out of the state. There simply were not enough places available for the large number that were displaced. For those who have stuck around, the plan is to return to Paradise and build a better and stronger community.
Through the help of my community of Chico and others that have reached out I truly experienced what has been branded as #Butte Strong! I have seen my community come together in many ways to offer support and help. One thing is for certain, there really is a lot that we have gained as a result of the Camp fire. A more solid sense of community that is without borders. A resilience and determination to tackle any and all challenges that the future will bring. Finally a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the aide and support that continues to flow.