Over the past week, Colusa County residents have come together to help the victims of the ‘Camp Fire’ that is still raging in Butte County, which is now considered the deadliest wildfire in California’s history.
During a press conference on Monday, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said that the death toll from the fire had risen to 42. More than 200 people remain missing. As of Cal Fire’s update on Monday night, the Camp Fire had scorched some 113,000 acres, destroying nearly 6,500 structures – including the vast majority of the residences in Paradise, a town of 26,682.
Colusa County native Nikki Hancock, who traveled to evacuation shelters in Chico to act as a line of communication to help coordinate local assistance efforts back home, said that the scene there was heartbreaking.
“…Once you get out there and start talking to people and seeing the devastation, hearing the stories firsthand, you can’t walk away from that and go sleep in your own warm home and bed without being compelled to do more,” Hancock said. “Seeing the elderly sitting in cots in shelters just staring looking lost. Seeing parents crying, trying to gather clothes out of used piles for their kids. People’s clothes were blackened by smoke, tattered… It could just as easily have been any of us. This is too close to home not to rally together and make as big of a difference as we can. Luckily most everyone here shares that sentiment and we have made a huge showing from this county.”
From holding fundraisers to collecting and delivering donations, to offering a home to displaced families, area residents have stepped up to help in many ways.
One such effort was organized by Abel Godoy, who works at The Refuge in Colusa. Godoy said he was compelled to act after having an interaction with an evacuee while on a break from his shift at The Refuge. Godoy said that he ran over to Jackpot to pick up a soda at around 11:30 PM, and as he pulled into the parking lot, he noticed that there were people sleeping in their cars there.
“I also saw a man coming out of a Suburban. His wife was asleep in the front seat and a little to no belongings in their car,” Godoy said. “I went to get my soda and the guy was buying energy drinks, and he look like he had life sucked out of him. So I told him, ‘I’m not trying to be rude but are you a evacuee?’ He replied yes. So I offered to buy his energy drinks and he started to tell me a story.”
Godoy said the man told him that law enforcement came knocking at the man’s house and told him evacuate immediately. The man was able to get his dad’s old shotgun, his dog, and his wife grabbed a couple of their belongings. “He told me the only clothing he owned was what he was wearing. He told me that happened so fast and it was so scary they weren’t able to get anything out of their house,” Godoy said. “He went on to tell me he was trying to stay awake so he could make it to Fort Bragg, because his wife was very upset from seeing the fire coming so close to their house. He wanted to her to be able to wake up by seeing the ocean.”
The man’s story rocked Godoy, who returned to The Refuge, turned the music down, and told the patrons there about his experience.
“I started telling my customers that if they go to Jackpot to make sure to give a helping hand to people that needed it,” Godoy said. Later that night, he, his wife, Kiki, and two other people decided to hold a taco lunch fundraiser and donation drive at The Refuge over the weekend. Others jumped on board – donating food, signs, and volunteer time – and helped the event raise more than $1,600 at the event. That money went toward purchasing new items that were needed for the victims, which Colusa residents Jeremy and Kristen Tressler ultimately hauled up to evacuees in Chico.
“Look at what you have and imagine losing all of it so fast that you can’t even comprehend and then have to scramble to just survive day to day,” Jeremy said. “I can only imagine that, and for the rest it’s real. It was enough for me to want to do what I could.”
Chon Santana, a Colusa resident and Colusa Rural Firefighter, organized a boot drive that both the City and Rural Fire Departments participated in. The two departments worked together in what ended up being a very successful fundraiser.
“The contributions made by members of the county and by-passers remind us just how lucky we are to serve and be apart of such a great community,” Santana said, adding that some of the funds went to Colusa Police Sgt. Jarrod Hughes, a Paradise resident who lost his home in the fire, as well as an ambulance driver who works in the area and was also affected by the fire.
“I also did a fire relief drop-off at the Tacos El Amigo taco stand and (that) was also a very successful outcome.. filled up the back seat of the truck, the bed of the truck and a trailer full of clothes, waters, blankets, toys and diapers for the babies and adults.. I just left Crossroads Church in Yuba City where they where extremely happy,” Santana said.
During Colusa High School’s playoff football game against Mt. Shasta on Friday, students collected donations – of both items and money – and raised more than $1,000 for victims of the Camp Fire. The Colusa Lions Club pledged to match the amount raised by Colusa High School students.
Locals Troy Oliver and Gene McKasson collected “a ton” of donations from the communities on the west side of the county. Colusa resident Christian Cowsert delivered those donations, including food and toiletries, to evacuees who weren’t staying at a relief center in the Chico area on Sunday.
“We learned from the other fires that the donation centers fill up with donations fast, so it’s better to get it done as soon as possible,” Cowsert said. “We’ve been telling the other groups the same to make sure they get there in too.”■
Ongoing and upcoming assistance efforts
Backpack and School Supply Drive: Cowsert has a ‘Backpack and School Supply Drive’ planned for tomorrow, between 5 PM and 7 PM at The Refuge in Colusa. So far, the drive has raised more than $1,000 in cash donations, backpacks from JanSport, and school supplies from donations. The event tomorrow will hopefully add to that, and the money will go to what is needed, Cowsert said.
Honey Run Bridge Canvass Print Auction: Local photographer Neil Cotter is auctioning off a canvas print of a photo he took of the iconic Honey Run Bridge in the Butte Creek Valley, which was destroyed in the Camp Fire. All of the proceeds from the final bid will be donated to one or two families affected by the Camp Fire. As of Monday, bidding was at $625. Bidding closes tonight at 5 PM. Bids can be made on Cotter’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/deputynrc
Benefit concerts featuring local musicians: A handful of local artists – including some from Yuba City, Colusa, Williams, Marysville, Live Oak, and Chico – are working to put together a series of three shows, one each in Yuba City, Colusa, and Chico. The proceeds from the shows will go to those who have been affected by the Camp Fire. Details are still being worked out. More information will be provided as it becomes available.
County residents cooking for evacuees at Chico Walmart on Friday: Troy Oliver and Gene McKasson are bringing their smokers to Walmart in Chico on Friday to cook for Camp Fire evacuees who are staying there. Organizers are still taking donations of water cases for the event. Those can be dropped off at Highway 20 Sign Works in Colusa.■