For more than two weeks the Rim Fire has raged through the wooded terrain of Tuolumne County, fast becoming one of the largest wildfires in California history (as of this writing, the fire is the 4th largest recorded in California). The fire has ravaged the landscape, and sent smoke as far north as Canada.
Needless to say, a fire of this magnitude has also placed many area communities in danger. As the fire spread and firefighting crews battled for containment, authorities advised many residents to evacuate their homes and seek safe shelter until safety was restored. Many residents arrived at the Red Cross shelter at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora, unsure of how long they would stay and what would be waiting for them upon their return home.
For two weeks, the Fairgrounds have served as “home” to as many as 200 evacuated residents. Some have arrived in RV’s while some have come with only the clothes on their backs and their precious pets. Thanks to the efforts of over 150 Red Cross volunteers, all those seeking shelter have found safety, comfort, meals, and hope as they endure through this marathon.
But it’s not only Red Cross volunteers that have arrived to help. In the tight-knit communities throughout Tuolumne County, it’s been about neighbors helping neighbors. Residents not impacted by the fire have volunteered to help at the shelter, community groups have pulled together to collect food and supplies for emergency responders, and many local businesses have provided food and services in support of those impacted. Even some who have evacuated their homes have turned to volunteering in an effort to help their friends and neighbors.
One such story is that of Rod Carrera. Rod grew up in nearby Jamestown and has lived in the town of Soulsbyville for the last 25 years. When his town was placed under an evacuation advisory, Rod decided to stay in his home despite the risk and heavy smoke. However, when mandatory evacuation orders hit his son’s town of Tuolumne City, Rod took action to help get him to safety at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds.
Throughout the years, Rod had visited the Fairgrounds well over 100 times, enjoying annual county fairs and many other events that had come through. But never before had he seen it as an evacuation shelter.
“I never knew the Red Cross did anything like this,” he said. “It’s a pretty incredible effort to organize something like this and to make sure so many people have what they need. It was great to know my son and all the other people would be well looked after. Very impressive.”
Seeing the impact the Rim Fire was having on the community, Rod was inspired to give back. In fact, in 1987 when the Stanislaus Complex Fire burned much of the same area, Rod was out on the front lines, aiding the fight by carving fire breaks with a bulldozer. The Rim Fire offered another chance to help.
As a manager with W.H. Breshears, Inc., a family-owned petroleum marketing company based in Modesto, Rod and company owner Holley Coppetti chose a unique way to help give back to their community while also providing invaluable assistance to the Red Cross shelter and its evacuated residents.
With Rod providing the delivery, W.H. Breshears, Inc. has donated fuel to keep the large Savemart refrigeration trailer at the shelter site operating around the clock. Not only that, but they have also provided fuel to keep all Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) running throughout the entire operation. As one can imagine, fuel can create a tremendous expense, particularly over an extended period of time. While the Red Cross is prepared to incur such expenses during a disaster response, the generosity of Rod and W.H. Breshears, Inc. has provided extraordinary relief and support to the community.
“This is where I grew up, these are my friends. If there’s a need big or small, I’m just happy to help in some way and be a part of this great community,” he says.
The Rim Fire is one that will go down in the history books. It is a fire that will be remembered for many years to come. But despite the acres burned, despite the scarred landscapes, despite the enduring blankets of smoke that hang in the air, there are many positive tales that will also carry on. Volunteers, neighbors, and total strangers jumping in to help others get through. Stories like that of Rod Carrera, who saw his community in trouble and didn’t hesitate to take action.
Thank you to all who have helped and continue to help those impacted by the Rim Fire and other incidents across the state. Your help truly makes a difference!
The American Red Cross is out in the community responding to an emergency every day. In the Capital Region, volunteers are called to an incident on average once every 16 hours. We need your help! Interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer? Visit www.redcross.org/capitalregion to sign up!