Locals Help Fire Victims Recover
By BOBBIE DODSON
The Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Adult Mission Team, 23 volunteers strong, recently returned to Lake County to aid 2015 fire victims, still struggling in California’s poorest county, through the auspices of Habitat for Humanity.
The fire season in Northern California is here with a vengeance and earlier than ever. The County Fire in Napa and Yolo Counties, the Pawnee Fire in Lake County, the Shingle Fire in El Dorado County, the Kalamathon Fire in Siskiyou County, and a huge blaze in Goleta which has destroyed a number of homes have already marked 2018 as worrisome. A number of state-wide areas have already had evacuation alerts.
Paul Ullrich, a climatologist at UC Davis says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if this fire season is among the worst on record.” Through early July, Cal Fire has responded to 2,625 fires, 260 more than this time last year according to agency spokesman Scott McLean.
Many people are still without housing from previous infernos. In Lake Country, nearly 2,000 buildings were destroyed, including 1,322 homes, in the 2015 fire. Much still needs to be done.
Owners whose homes had been destroyed expressed happiness that they weren’t forgotten since, as one County resident expressed, “people tend to forget about fire victims after the television stops showing pictures of the fire devastation.” LOPC sent a very experienced team of builders to Lake County and accomplished a great deal. Gail Parker-Marshal heard from a Habitat for Humanity official, “We have never seen the likes of any volunteers like those from LOPC. They knew what they were doing.”
Parker-Marshall, who has been on many of the adult mission trips, starting in the aftermath of Katrina, found it hard to believe that she was to work in an area so hard hit in California: “Our group’s assignment was the new home of Cindy and Mike Galley and daughter Aralyn. We painted the exterior, most of the interior and a small barn. Plus, Tom Roberts and Jack Champlin built an awesome deck. Cindy came by and helped paint. We learned, as with all Habitat projects, the home owners are obligated to give 500 hours of ‘sweat equity.’”
Sally Roberts observed, “I can’t begin to explain how genuinely grateful Cindy was. She couldn’t say thank you enough. We became close friends with her and were just a little teary eyed as we gave our last hugs. It was five days of hard work, climbing on ladders, cleaning paint brushes, mixing and pouring a concrete slab, but also five days of tremendous satisfaction for what we accomplished.”
Orindan Rich Lewis, was overall team leader again. He and his wife, Marty, have led a trip almost every year since 2006. Of this crew he explains: “three are in their 80s, 10 in their 70s, eight in their 60s, and one 58, another 49.” He says, “It was a pleasure to travel with this crew with the shared goal of helping others.” Lewis also praised the homeowners for bringing the workers lunch every day, which saved them the time of going to a restaurant while providing such treats as homemade chili and pulled pork sandwiches.
A story Lewis likes to tell is that of Cecilia Nelson, her daughter, Zayann, 10, and son, Axel, 8. They lost everything in the Valley Fire except for two dolls Zayann grabbed when they ran out of their home. “They barely escaped with their lives,” he says. “Terry Gleason’s crew got Cecilia’s new house framed, wrapped in Tyvek, and installed some of the windows and electrical boxes. We presented them with two of the quilts LOPC member Ann Loar made for the fire victims. Cecilia and Zayann share a bed. That night Zayann told her mother she was ready for bed, and when Cecilia went in Zayann’s child-themed quilt was neatly made up on her side of the bed.” In the past three years, Loar has made and donated 15 quilts. Richard Birk, president of Habitat, couldn’t believe they were hand made. He notes, “What a pleasure it has been to present them to the homeowners on behalf of Ann. Every homeowner loves them.”
Lily and Chewy Lopez and their three children, ages three years, two years, and eight months, will be moving into their rehabbed mobile home within the next few months. When Lewis was showing Chewy through the house, as they walked into one of the bedrooms Chewy became very quiet and he could not talk as he had so many tears. Then he said, “I can’t believe you are doing this for me and my family.”
In explaining why he comes on the mission trips, Lewis says, “It is always moving to see the love and appreciation on the faces of the families we help put their lives back together.“ Parker-Marshall adds, “We all enjoy the camaraderie; the love of doing what God has called us to do, and the feeling that our team of 23 worked hard and accomplished a lot for our families. Another year to be blessed and to be a blessing.”