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Fire Background

October 2016
By Kathleen Harmon

I have always counted it a privilege and a blessing to live in Amador County. There is something special about this community. Last year we were hit with a disaster that was unimaginable; Butte Fire. Many areas of Pine Grove were evacuated for 3 weeks, the Tiger Creek area of Pioneer was advisory/mandatory evacuation for 3 weeks, our Rancheria became the “disaster resort” for Amador and Calaveras as we watched the Butte Fire ravage Amador forest, threaten homes and ultimately devastate the Calaveras County community of Mountain Ranch.

I will never forget leaving work on an evacuation notice Friday, day 3 to hopefully get to my house as they were evacuating Pine Grove and Pioneer. It looked like a scene out of Grapes of Wrath. Stuff hanging out of car windows, tied to roofs, trailers loaded haphazardly. It was surreal. And Stuart Munnerlyn out there handing out little cups of ice cream to every car that wanted it. Traffic was so slow he could. It was something I will never forget.

This generous community, regardless of personal circumstance, gave. Amador Community Foundation, on day two of the Butte Fire, established a disaster relief fund. Thanks to social media, the Ledger Dispatch and Hometown Radio, word spread that giving for disaster relief had been established. Long-established fundraisers were canceled or were turned into disaster relief events. Sharon Long’s Big Red Barn raised $11,000 the first weekend of the fire. Donations came from all over the world in large and small amounts, but the community of Amador County gave tens of thousands of dollars.

The ACF office became a drop-off point for water, clothing, personal hygiene, household and camping supplies. Volunteer drivers took truckloads to Mountain Ranch. One of the drivers was an 80-year-old man, accompanied by his wife. It was the only way they could help, so that is what they did. Renwood Winery turned an event on its calendar into a fundraising and goods drive. I filled my truck three times with new and gently used clothing and cases of water, first aid supplies. You name it — we got it.

Mountain Ranch burned. More than 1,000 homes and outbuildings were destroyed. Amador was still threatened, but Calaveras had taken the brunt of the raging flames. Neil Carlson and his team of volunteers worked tirelessly to create, “Rockin’ Relief,” a disaster-relief fundraiser. Kennedy Mine was packed. Calaveras Foundation board members and elected officials attended as their community continued to be threatened by fire. This community gave. They gave their time, talent, goods, services and money. $32,000 was raised to give to Calaveras to rebuild their community.

For 18 days, the Butte Fire devastated land, property and lives. Jim Guidi and the staff from KVGC Hometown Radio, Ledger Dispatch photojournalist Bill Lavallie, on the fire line, photographing and posting updates on Facebook, and Ledger Dispatch Publisher Jack Mitchell put in 18-hour days covering the fire to let their community know what was happening. They were our lifeline during power outages and 18 days of uncertainty. Tirelessly.

Amador Community Foundation became the nonprofit umbrella for rebuilding homes for the uninsured and underinsured. We fiscally sponsor Calaveras Recovers. Their volunteers are currently finishing the first two homes and have 11 more scheduled to start this fall. My church, Church of the Nazarene, in Sutter Creek, has adopted a build. The congregation is financing the rebuild, providing skilled labor and working to get a family in their home before winter. Amador continues to give to their neighbors in need.

What do the actual numbers look like? In less than a month, we received $401,093 in gifts to rebuild after the Butte Fire. We granted funds immediately during the fire for triage and animal rescue. The rest has been used to help the community of Mountain Ranch rebuild. This has been one of the most rewarding projects of my lifetime. Being a part of this effort, seeing people at their very best during and after a devastating disaster simply reinforces what makes this county great — its people.

Total Donations: $401,093

$17,500 -Grants to 5 churches during triage
$16,756 – ACART-Amador County Animal Rescue Team
$26,823 – Laughton Ranch Rescue
$10,000 – CCAR Charities (Calaveras County Association of Realtors) for temporary power poles and water tanks
$25,000 – Calaveras Grown for erosion control
$100,000 – Calaveras Community Foundation
$166,191 – Calaveras Recovers (rebuilding homes for uninsured and underinsured)

John Williamson is Executive Director of the Amador Community Foundation, with offices in Jackson.