Last week the Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras counties ravaged my hometown communities. Calaveras took the biggest beating, with many of the 75,000 acres burned and 545 residences/356 outbuildings lost, in that county. County lines have all but diminished however, with families and local businesses from both pulling together to help those impacted by the fire. I couldn’t be any more thankful to have been raised in the Sierra Nevada foothills where community still means something.
I grew up in a small town called Rail Road Flat, located at the tip of Calaveras County. We moved there when I was 5. I went to RRF Elementary and graduated from Calaveras High School. I grew up fishing, hiking, riding horses, learning to drive on a tractor, running around barefoot in the summer and braving power outages due to snow storms in the winter. Waking to the sight of deer grazing lazily in our meadow, or the sound of raccoon paws scampering around on our porch, was normal. So was sleeping with the windows open, the sound of crickets or the sound critters rustling among the growth in the hilly terrains. My first real childhood memories are there. My heart is there.
The loss of homes and wildlife in the area is too many to count. Childhood friends lost the homes they built with their children. My grandparents home, the home they built over 35 years ago, reduced to nothing but ash. It was sold 10 years ago when my grandma died but a part of me still clung to the memories that home stood for. As long as it stood, so too, were my vivid memories. That loss was a punch in the gut. My memories beginning to grey like the ash of its foundation. My mom’s house is still standing, but I have no idea what it will feel like to drive the road home this weekend, a road that was once as familiar to me as my own breath, now barren, appearing more wasteland than wondrous beauty.
When I found out about my grandparents house I cried. The tears I’d been holding back for more than a week as I helped connect people in my hometown to information and resources while I was hundreds of miles away, found their release, instantly. I learned then, in the early weeks of my 40th year, that it is possible to cry like you are four. Heavy sobs that shake your entire body, the tightening of your throat as the tears pour, one after another, small pieces of your childhood leaving you with each. My son didn’t understand. He watched helpless as mom, who always has it together (more or less) lost her proverbial shit. And the next day, when I drove him to school, the first words out of his mouth, “Mommy, I don’t think you should help with that stupid fire anymore. It makes you sad. And that makes me sad.” Kids…wiser than we give them credit.
I hate fire now more than I ever did. I was born in July so I am a water baby. In a way I suppose I was predetermined to loathe fire. My summers were filled with listening to scanners, waiting at any moment for a wildfire alert to prepare my small town for evacuation. I’ve had to evacuate before. It’s not fun. The list of what you would take changes as you age, but the fear never does.
There are no words to describe the devastation that has changed thousands of lives forever in my hometown. And it wasn’t just the lives and homes of families in the foothills that were impacted, but that of thousands of native wildlife that also called the foothills home, as well as pets that were left behind due to the speed of the fire, or scattered when the threat of fire neared. Some perished, others have disappeared, hoping to be found, the realization heavy in many hearts that many may never be seen again. For those that did survive, the injuries vary. Many, the local vets are caring for, and those where injuries may be too great, are being sent to larger facilities like UC Davis, for treatment and care. But they too are busy, California’s drought hitting like a heavyweight, creating kindling for not one but many fires, including the Valley Fire, which has always eliminated thousands of acres and displaced hundreds of families.
In the coming months I am going to do what I do best and help raise awareness for the people and animals in need in Calaveras County impacted by the Butte Fire. I am starting with the needs of the animals, as the donations for families displaced by the fire have been overwhelming and many efforts underway in the coming months to help truly understand what is needed for those families to heal and rebuild. Each animal burn victim costs an estimated $300-$1200 to treat. I am managing a GoFundMe Campaign to help raise monies to help the local vet care for these animals. All funds will go directly to helping care for those animals impacted by the fire. No donation is too small- any and all help is welcome: https://www.gofundme.com/xd4hjgv4.
Fire may destroy, but it also makes way for rebirth. Something beautiful rising from the ashes. Like a Phoenix. This fire didn’t kill the spirits of these small town communities and it won’t kill mine. My head says keep fighting. My heart says do more. I won’t stop helping the communities of my hometown. I am a fighter. I do not quit. Not helping with the aftermath of this stupid fire isn’t an option.
Sometimes, we have to be the wise ones.