January 15, 2019
WHAT BEING IN COMMUNITY REALLY MEANS: Compassion Under Extreme Duress
by Rachael Watcher
On November 8th at around 6 AM a fire, allegedly started by a faulty Pacific Gas & Electric line, began at Pulga on Highway 70 in Butte County, northern California. It quickly spread to the neighboring towns of Paradise, Magalia, and Concow. For a day it grew 100 yards a second. It came so fast that the first warning many had was the light of the fire in their neighbors’ yards or their own. People evacuated, often with nothing more than their pajamas and pets.
The fire burned so hot that appliances melted. In the home I owned in Concow, where my niece was living, the well head and pump melted so completely that it sealed my well with a puddle of steel. Even more seriously, the fire burned so hot that it burned out the roots of trees and other plant systems, destroying invaluable water shed. To add to these issues, the rains that put out the fire were torrential, the heavy runoff down rushing canyons denuded of watershed, causing floods filled with fire debris and mud.
Photo: Bureau of Land Management California, C. c. 2.0
By now the nation knows that ultimately the entire towns of Paradise and Concow were lost, as well as much of Magalia. Two hundred and fifty square miles of forest, over 18,000 homes and business structures, and, at current count, 88 human lives, along with untold domestic animals and wild life, were lost. With few exceptions, the human lives lost were 65 years of age and older. At the height of the fire more than 50,000 evacuees flooded into Chico and Oroville, where I live, with 30,000 still displaced as of this writing. It is now the deadliest wildfire in the United States since 1918.
In comparison to other California cities, Chico and Oroville are small communities with the limited resources that being a small community implies. Before the end of that day, the Walmart parking lots in both towns were filled to capacity with tents and RVs. The “official” evacuation sites and county fairgrounds soon filled to capacity and then overflowed as the displaced continued to arrive. By the third day, the small town of Gridley was opening sites to take up the victims.
More than a month later, many are still living in RVs and tents. Fortunately, the threatened failure of the Oroville damn in February of 2017 and the subsequent evacuation of Oroville and cities down river helped in small part to prepare us. Yet our communities were in no way ready for the massive impact of this disaster. A sudden influx of this number of people with no food or shelter nor, in many cases, even jobs, could well have strained resources past the breaking point, causing the spread of health and sanitary disasters. What happened instead was a true testament to the generosity of the human spirit.
The Buddhist organization Tzu Chi, whose local office is in San Jose, California, had a booth at the Disaster Recovery Center in Chico giving out checks to any in need, with $500 going to individuals and more to families depending upon their circumstances.
If everyone contributes their love, a crisis can be transformed into an opportunity and a disaster into a blessing. – Tze Chi aphorism
Tze Chi is now on Facebook asking that anyone in need fill out their form online so further funds can be distributed. This is an international organization with over 70 offices around the world, raising funds solely for the purpose of helping people during emergencies and disasters.
The Sikhs and Mennonites are also actively supporting community here. The Sikhs opened their gurdwaras (sanctuaries) for evacuees, and the Mennonites served meals at the Church of the Nazarene and provided shower trailers there for those in need. Nazarene churches located in both Oroville and Chico were designated as main evacuation sites and Red Cross shelters.
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