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Opinion: Fire Did Great Damage, but not to Community Spirit

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

dahlebolesfireBy Brian Dahle
1st Assembly District

When I walked through the lots of ash and rubble where so recently thriving neighborhoods had stood in the City of Weed, it was humbling to be reminded how much can change with a spark and a turn in the wind.

But the Boles Fire’s tragic path of destruction was not the end of the story.

Instead, it was the start of an inspirational chapter – about kindness, community and rebirth.

As devastating as the fire was for more than 150 families, North State neighbors really do rally to help in times of need. Volunteer support – offers of clothing, cash and simple human comfort – erupted almost as swiftly as the fire. It was organized through churches, the Red Cross and the United Way – and through spontaneous acts of residents driven to help.

The Shasta Regional Community Foundation announced the creation of a disaster-relief fund. Almost overnight it collected nearly $300,000 to help meet the community’s many needs – both for urgent help and long-term rebuilding.

Just this month, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that Siskiyou County’s residents were the most giving in California, donating a larger share of their income to charity than those in any other county in the state. Nobody who saw the response to the Weed fire would be surprised.

They have their fancy fundraising galas in San Francisco, sure, but in Siskiyou County they will reach deeper to help a neighbor in need.

The many homes lost – along with the family albums, the pets, prized heirlooms – are heart-breaking, but the fire could have been much worse. First and most important, no lives were lost, almost a miracle given how fast the fire raced through town. And the Roseburg Forest Products mill – still the backbone of Weed’s economy – was saved, partially reopening for production less than a month after the fire.

In both cases, it was good luck but also preparation, training and resources that made the difference.

Evacuation planning that dwells on worst-case scenarios can seem alarmist – until your life becomes one of those scenarios. The time we spend preparing really does save lives when it counts.

The intense attack the firefighters mustered – in some cases literally while their own homes burned – saved many homes and the mill. Firefighters and law-enforcement officers from many agencies worked with remarkable unity to contain the fire and preserve order in one of the most chaotic days they’ll ever see. Their professionalism is amazing, and I salute them. The Governor and the state Emergency Management Agency have done everything in their power to help the recovery, and I echo the Siskiyou County Supervisors’ recent formal thanks.

Weed has a long, difficult road ahead as it rebuilds – both family homes and public resources like the library, community center and two lost churches. The media’s attention will move on to the next high-drama headline, but many quiet challenges for the community remain. The local leaders at the City of Weed and Siskiyou County who’ve done so much to steer through the disaster will continue to show what they’re worth. My Assembly office is working to help constituents who’ve lost critical files or personal papers but still need to navigate state agencies, and with local agencies whose efforts to restore services hit bureaucratic walls. We are here to help, and I invite anyone needing help with the state to call our office in Redding at 223-6300.

It won’t be easy, but I know this much: The little city and the wider community revealed their hearts in the Boles Fire, and what we saw guaranties that Weed has a bright future ahead.

Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, represents California’s 1st Assembly District, which includes Shasta, Lassen, Nevada, Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas, and Sierra Counties, and portions of Butte and Placer Counties.

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