The United Methodist Church was well represented when community meetings were held earlier this month to assess the repercussions of the 49 Fire in Auburn and plan for long-term recovery. The blaze, which began August 30, consumed 340 acres and 66 structures before being contained.
On Thursday, Sept 17, Cathy Earl of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) joined Phil Bandy, Interim Director of the Volunteers in Mission program for the California-Nevada Annual Conference (facing camera in photo below), Superintendent Jerry Smith of the Conference's Nevada-Sierra District (at right with back to camera), the Rev. Barbara Smith, pastor of Pioneer UMC in Auburn, Joan Pell of Pioneer, and Western Jurisdiction UMVIM Coordinator Heather Wilson (shown speaking with DS Smith at right) to tour the fire area and meet with local and federal officials.
Rui Cunha of the Placer County Office of Emergency Services confirmed earlier reports that urgent needs have been met through local resources, but that ongoing recovery for certain persons (as yet unidentified) will be required. He welcomed UMCOR, with its long-term recovery focus, to the table.
At a regularly scheduled meeting of the Auburn Homeless Coalition (on which UMC clergy serve), it was reported that 14 of the families who lost their homes are members of faith communities, and that in addition to the 63 homes destroyed, the fire also burned out an encampment of homeless people - something which apparently has not been counted or acknowledged by any agency, nor have relief efforts been directed toward it.
Mark Randle of the Small Business Administration reminded everyone of the November 9 deadline to apply for an SBA loan, available to homeowners, renters, and businesses alike. (SBA offers assistance in the form of Home Disaster Loans, Business Physical Disaster Loans, and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.) Randle cautioned that people sometimes assume they don't need such a loan, then discover that they do after the application deadline has passed. He recommended that everyone affected by the fire apply - businesses and residents of homes and/or apartments. It's better to do so and not need the loan, he reasoned, than to discover too late that it is needed.
He asked churches to publicize the deadline and to encourage applications.
Still, some people will fall through the cracks, he said. Randle reported that eight people to date had filed a loan application, and that one of those applications already had been declined. He explained that since the SBA issues loans and not grants, its guidelines require a good credit rating and demonstration of the ability to repay the loan. A certain number of people will not qualify for SBA loans, and also will not have suitable insurance coverage, he said.
Chamber of Commerce member Steve Galyardt talked about the Auburn Disaster Relief Fund, a repository of proceeds from benefactors and various community fundraising events which are to be distributed "100 percent" to survivors in real need. Although the 49 Fire was the catalyst for the fund, it was intentionally defined for disasters in general, he said.
While it is expected that all funds collected thus far - $8,000 - will be disbursed, the account will be maintained and the Citizens' Advisory Board for the relief fund will continue to monitor future needs. Additional fundraisers are already planned and it is hoped they will swell the fund to as much as $80,000. Galyardt explained the board is committed to "doing the right thing" to make sure that the money raised gets to the people who need it the most.
Board members indicated they're excited about the prospect of working with UMCOR and other faith-based organizations to identify the survivors of the 49 Fire who most need help, working on getting the money available, and then disbursing it in an orderly manner.
Barbara Smith and Cathy Earl were charged with creating a proposal for how the relationship might work, and developing an action plan for training the necessary local volunteers who will become case managers for the 49 Fire recovery.