Fighting fire with well-organized relief efforts, not with fire

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The damage of the Valley fire is shown in Middleton, California. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Public Radio.

Charred trees and the burnt skeletons of buildings are beginning to dominate the landscape in certain regions of California. Over the past weeks, several wildfires have been raging across Northern California, causing widespread destruction in its wake. The Valley fire has been causing destruction in nearby Lake County.

The fire started on Sept. 12 and within two weeks, has burned more than 76,000 acres and destroyed 1,910 structures, according to CAL FIRE. And those numbers are rising. This fire is among the top three most destructive in California history.

Rebekah Carlson, a Lake County native and
investigator of Chico Students Fire Relief. Photo credit: Nathan Graves

Rebekah Carlson, first-year business administration student, decided to take on the fire— or rather, the task of helping those whom it affected.

Carlson is from Kelseyville in Lake County, and much of her hometown was evacuated when the fire started to approach it. She has many friends who still live in the surrounding area, and have lost their homes to the fire.

Carlson discussed the fires in one of her classes which deals with global ethics and corporate responsibility, she said.

“I told some classmates about a small-scale plan I had to gather donations to aid the victims of the fire, and with encouragement from my professor, the class began to rally around the idea,” Carlson said.

The students got to work without delay. Almost immediately, there was a Facebook page up for the effort and a room in the library to drop off donations.

By the next day, several campus organizations had eagerly joined the project. Associated Students, fraternities and sororities and other clubs did their best to make a difference as well. Their help bolstered donation amounts and the relief effort became hugely successful, Carlson said.

Two trailer loads of donations from Chico State and The Tackle Box ready to be taken to Lake County. Photo courtesy of Rebekah Carlson.

By the end of the week, Chico Students Fire Relief, in collaboration with a local restaurant, The Tackle Box, had raised more than $10,000 and accumulated several trailer loads of donations. These trailers were comprised of clothing, food, camping equipment, toiletries and other necessities for the displaced population.

“I’ve never been so proud to be a Wildcat,” Carlson said.

The Sunday after the effort began, Carlson and a few others took the first two trailers of donations to the Moose Lodge in Clearlake Oaks, one of the damaged towns surrounding Clear Lake. There were evacuation sites, medical centers and hillsides covered in tents sheltering countless homeless people, she said.

“There was a very strong sense of community amongst the people,” Carlson said. “It is amazing how much that community has come together.”

The Valley fire is now 90 percent contained, and the worst has passed, according to CAL FIRE. However, thousands are still homeless and many are still missing. It will be difficult to heal the landscape and rebuild what has been lost.

Chico State, led by Carlson, has taken an active role in healing one of California’s worst natural disasters.

“I was very impressed with Chico State,” Carlson said.

Nathan Graves can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.