Wildfire recovery: Your conference responses, part 3

May 12, 2022 | by Steve Elliott

Wildfire recovery: Your conference responses, part 3

Note: This is the last of three articles about how the Cal-Nev Conference is helping with wildfire recovery. Click here for the first article and here for the second article. For more information, contact Steve Elliott, Disaster Response Coordinator, at UMVIMCoordinator@calnevumc.org.

The Caldor Fire was the third largest in 2021 and the most destructive in recorded California history. It burned 221,835 acres and destroyed or damaged 1,084 structures, mostly residential. It burned across three counties (El Dorado, Amador and Alpine). It was the second fire to ever cross over the Sierra Nevada mountains, causing the evacuation of more than 20,000 people in South Lake Tahoe before it was stopped. Started August 14, 2021, this fire burned for two months.

The Caldor Fire destroyed two-thirds of the town of Grizzly Flats and caused significant loss in the Western Sierra foothill communities of Somerset, Twin Bridges and Pollock Pines.

Caldor Fire Recovery
Led by two local churches, El Dorado County Federated in Placerville and Foothill UMC in Rescue, California, Conference volunteers were involved from the earliest days of the fire. During the relief phase at the Local Assistance Centers, we donated thousands of dollars of evacuee and survivor aid and assisted survivors with personal property recovery at their burned-out home. Our initial assistance also included two grants of $10,000 each, one from UMCOR and one from the Conference Disaster Response Fund.

The Placerville Church is an integral part of the continued relief work. They help sponsor the monthly resource days where survivors can pick up household necessities. They offer expanded access to the food panty housed on their church campus and host other recovery activities, such as the current tool drive. These tools will be given to survivors who want to work on their property. While much of this aid is critical necessities, the church gave away dozens of comforting handmade blankets donated by a person from the Lodi church.

We are now deeply involved in the Long-Term Recovery Group. Pastor Laura Barnes, from the Placerville Church, serves on the Executive Committee and co-leads the Spiritual and Emotional Care Team. Steve Elliott, our Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, serves on the newly established Unmet Needs Roundtable and is part of the group defining the volunteer rebuild capability. Other members of the Placerville Church serve on the Immediate Needs Committee.

We envision participating financially as a funder for survivor unmet needs when that process starts in June. This is a very economically challenged area and a lot of help will be needed. The demographics are an issue. Grizzly Flats is a state-designated “low socioeconomic community.” Unemployment is 33%. Seniors are 35%. The high percentage of uninsured survivors (40%) is another problem. It is expected that this recovery will last four or five years.

Slater, River, and Bear Fires
Your Cal-Nev Conference is actively participating in three additional wildfire recoveries.

Slater Fire – A 2020 fire, in far Northern California near the Oregon border, the Slater Fire damaged or destroyed several hundred homes in the town of Happy Camp and the nearby Indian Reservation. We are providing volunteer rebuild teams. This is a site run by Hope Crisis Response Network. It is a good location. Remote, but quite scenic. For more information, access this link - California-Nevada Conference of The UMC | California - Slater Wildfire Home Rebuilding - Siskiyou County (cnumc.org)

Bear Fire – A 2020 fire, near Oroville, this fire burned much of the rural communities of Berry Creek, Feather Falls, and the surrounding areas. During the early days of the fire relief, we staffed the Local Assistance Center providing immediate survivor aid (gift cards and other supplies) and we provided assistance with personal property retrieval at burned-out homes. We are now participating in the Unmet Needs Roundtable. Our funding is combined with that of other donors to help economically challenged residents find a long-term housing solution.

River Fire – This was a 2021 fire near the town of Colfax. Your Cal-Nev Disaster Response Ministry staffed the Local Assistance Center offering gift cards and other survivor aid. Pastor Suzanne Calhoun from Sierra Pines UMC is leading the Circuit’s ongoing involvement in the long-term recovery. This recovery received a $10,000 grant from the Conference Disaster Response Fund.

What a remarkable commitment to living our faith! There are so many grateful survivors out there.

Steve Elliott serves a the California-Nevada Conference Disaster Response & UMVIM Coordinator (Director).