Posts Tagged ‘carr fire’

After the Fire

11 September 2018

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Redding is a town of about 100,000 people located in northern California on the Sacramento River. Near the end of July this year, a forest fire started west of the city, caused by sparks flying from a vehicle wheel scraping the pavement after its tire went flat. The fire entered the city – the first time this had happened, per some residents I spoke to – and destroyed about 1,000 homes. The fire was contained by the end of August.

I arrived in Redding for the first time on the 29th of July. I was with a group from my church volunteering our help as part of our disaster response program.

It is reported that 38,000 people were evacuated from their homes during this fire.  Those who could not find motels or friends to stay with went to one of several evacuation centers, one of which was set up at Shasta College.

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I spent most of the afternoon here sorting clothes that would be given out that evening. The organization in charge of that operation was the Salvation Army.

When I returned in early August, we hooked up with Bethel Church, a large Christian organization headquartered in Redding with several years of experience in disaster response work. They had teamed up with the Salvation Army to create a large distribution center for food, water and other necessities at their facility, and we helped them with that for several days. I took no pictures of that, though. I was there to work, not to observe. On Sunday the 5th of August we went to their church service. Visit their Facebook page for more data on their work, including a full video of that 5 Aug service.

The Incident Command Post (ICP)

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Our group also tries to help disaster response workers (in this case, fire fighters). However, we were not allowed into their command post, set up at a nearby fairgrounds, so only managed to hand out some cold water and Gatorade, talk to a few people, and wave to the guys coming and going in their trucks.

Ash-outs and smoke mask distribution

We had a lot of donated smoke masks and found various ways to distribute them. Meanwhile, some of us (myself included) helped with sifting through debris at burnt-down homes looking for valuables and mementos. I have no photos of this; we were usually prohibited from taking any in respect for the privacy of the home owners. However, you can see some photos and videos of those activities at Bethel’s Facebook page.

Ash-outs are somewhat physically demanding. They are done in Tyvek suits which make it very hot and sweaty work. They also result in contamination of clothing and skin with house ash. Though the amount of dangerous contaminants in this ash is debatable, it requires multiple changes of clothes and/or visits to the laundry to stay “clean.” This leads most to volunteer for just one ash-out a day, but we were doing two, one in the morning and one in the evening.

The smoke mask distribution was a lot less physically demanding.

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Especially after we got a temporary OK from Walmart to set up next to their store. We handed out hundreds of these masks.

Rising from the ashes

If my numbers are correct, about a third of the people in this region were affected by this fire. Yet a much smaller number actually lost their homes. I experienced, for the most part, a resilient people. Most knew the difference between living and life. The fire was an experience of living, but it did not threaten life itself. Most could see that. Most who were directly affected could see this as an opportunity to start afresh, or take a new direction in living. Many, of course, were not directly affected and thus were not so challenged.

The volunteer experience was new for me. Not only did I meet many Scientologists that I didn’t know, I met many other people, too. The constant interaction was a challenge for me, but probably the highlight of the experience. We only worked about 8 hours a day, and had our meals more or less cared for. So the big problem became filling the idle hours between knock-off time and sleep time. The younger guys all sat with their phones. I would try to use my computer, over a usually weak wi-fi connection, or do a bit of writing or some such. And I would think, sometimes, what if something like this happened to me? Not total death, but something close to it; loss of all one’s valuables. Potential financial ruin. Would I pull through OK? You might want to ask yourself that question, too.

 

 

 

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