QUINCY (CBS SF/AP) – Residents whose homes were devastated by flames for more than 2 months in the massive blaze that burned five counties in the eastern Sierra rose to 94% in the Dixie Fire early Thursday. They are recovering from what they have lost.
The fire-scorched area totaled 963,276 acres Thursday and 1,329 structures were destroyed, including hundreds of homes in the devastated Greenville and Canyondam communities.
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But there was a glimmer of hope for families who lost their homes.
Woody Faircloth, holding a bag full of duct tape and snacks, climbed into a trailer complete with rugs and curtains on Wednesday. Alongside her, her 9-year-old daughter, Luna, questions a family that has just donated the amusement ride, aptly named Residency.
In the distance, waves of smoke rise from the second-largest wildfire in California history over the sage-dotted hills.
Father and daughter drive an hour west and deliver the 35-foot trailer to its new owner—a volunteer firefighter who lost his home in August when the Dixie Fire razed much of Greenville’s historic downtown area.
The vehicle is the 95th vehicle Faircloth has delivered to the wildfire victims. Faircloth said EmergencyRV.org, a nonprofit that works with all-volunteer efforts and donated RVs, fills a void for victims who often wait months for emergency shelter.
“We are grassroots people; We can move much faster than that. They are people who help people. … We can go there immediately,” he said.
And Faircloth has a long list that needs help. Thousands of wildfires broke out in California and the western United States this year as a historic drought made it harder to fight the flames.
His post started Thanksgiving week in 2018. Recently divorced and 6-year-old in Denver with Luna, Faircloth watched news of a man fleeing in a trailer as the Campfire, the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century, burned down his California home. Although the man lost his home, he was grateful that the Caravan called home for Thanksgiving. That hit Faircloth.
She’d never been in a trailer before, but she turned to Luna and asked, “Why don’t we buy a trailer and take it there and give it to a family that has lost their home? What do you think of that?”
His reply: “Oh, daddy, God and Santa will be proud of us.”
“It kind of sealed the deal,” Faircloth said.
Within three days, Luna was headed west from Denver with her shotgun, Faircloth, a $2,500 camper she found on Craigslist. They celebrated Thanksgiving on the way and delivered the vehicle the next day to the victim of the Campfire, which nearly destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.
As social media posts about the trip spread, donors began offering Faircloth their trailer. Some offered to deliver the vehicles themselves, but Faircloth did most of the deliveries personally.
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He tries to plan trips on weekends, but often dives into vacation time from his full-time job at telecom company Comcast. Faircloth has traveled thousands of miles in the past three years, often alongside Luna. Last year, she joined him more often as COVID-19 measures enabled him to go to school remotely.
While those who have been given RVs may have them directly, Faircloth estimates they give a 5% to 10% return when they stand up so they can be donated to other fire victims.
Faircloth and Luna have spent three weekends in the last two months on the 20-hour journey from Denver to rural Northern California. They handed over three trailers to firefighters and one to the deputy sheriff.
One of them was fireman George Wolley. While battling the Dixie Fire on August 4, flames whipped by strong winds and dried vegetation descended from the hills and razed much of central Greenville, including Wolley’s home.
“We fought the fire until we could no longer fight it. We couldn’t stop. We did our best,” he said.
Wolley parks the trailer near an airbase, where he still helps load fire retardants on air tankers to fight fires.
“I felt like I was a burden to everyone who helped me before I bought the trailer,” Wolley said. “I slept a lot in tents and in my car. It gave me a place to go.”
Faircloth and Luna recently delivered their 95th trailer to John Hunter. Hunter, assistant chief of the Indian Valley Fire Department, has been fighting the flames for 46 years. The same day Wolley’s home burned down, flames destroyed Hunter’s home and Hunter Ace Hardware, the Greenville store his family had run since 1929. It also demolished the building next door, a former medical clinic where the 69-year-old boy was born.
Hunter, 57, and his girlfriend, Kimberly Price, will call the trailer home as they decide to rebuild or start anew elsewhere.
“Our town is gone and it’s been really tough as that’s all John has ever known in his life,” Price said, wiping tears as he watched the video of the family donating the trailer.
Price said they would park somewhere near Greenville Junior/Senior High School, one of the few buildings still standing downtown. This will allow her to continue visiting the ruined homes every day to feed the cats left behind while their owners are evicted.
While Faircloth says it’s difficult to balance work, family, and nonprofit, she hopes to expand her volunteer efforts. In the future, it envisions preparing caravans in hurricane and fire zones so that they can respond even faster during disasters.
For now, EmergencyRV.org has more than 100 families on the waiting list. He plans to go to California in the next two weeks to make his next delivery.
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