Forest fire victims who have nothing left have hope thanks to motorhome donations

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QUINCY, Calif. (AP) – Holding a bag full of duct tape and snacks, Woody Faircloth boards a motorhome complete with rugs and curtains. Beside him, his 9-year-old daughter, Luna, interviews a family who has just donated the recreational vehicle, aptly named Residency. In the distance, over hills dotted with sagebrush, smoke rises from the second largest wildfire in California history.

Father and daughter drive west for an hour where they deliver the 35-foot (11-meter) motorhome to its new owner – a volunteer firefighter who lost his home in August when the Dixie Fire razed the major part of historic downtown Greenville., a small mountain town in Northern California dating back to the Gold Rush era.

The vehicle is the 95th that Faircloth has delivered to wildfire victims. Operating entirely through the efforts of volunteers and donated RVs, the nonprofit EmergencyRV.org fills a gap for victims who often wait months for emergency housing, Faircloth said.

“We are grassroots; we can go much faster than that. These are people who help people. … We can do it almost immediately, ”he said.

And Faircloth has a long list of people who need help. Thousands of wildfires have burned across California and the western United States this year as a historic drought makes the flames more difficult to fight.

His assignment began on Thanksgiving week in 2018. Recently divorced and domiciled in Denver with then 6-year-old Luna, Faircloth watched media coverage of a man fleeing in a motorhome as the wildfire on him. nation’s deadliest in a century – Camp Fire – burned down its California home. Despite losing his home, the man was grateful to have the camper van to call home for Thanksgiving. It hit Faircloth.

He had never been in a motorhome before, but he turned to Luna and asked, “Why not take a motorhome, drive it over there and give it to a family who has lost their way. House ? What do you think of that? “

His response: “Aw, daddy, God and Santa are going to be proud of us.”

“It kind of sealed the deal,” Faircloth said.

In three days, with Luna on a shotgun, Faircloth headed west from Denver in a $ 2,500 camper van he found on Craigslist. They celebrated Thanksgiving on the road and delivered the vehicle the next day to a 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 donating their RVs to Faircloth. Some have offered to deliver the vehicles themselves, but Faircloth personally makes many of the deliveries.

He tries to plan weekend trips, but often taps into vacations from his full-time job at telecommunications company Comcast. Faircloth has traveled thousands of miles over the past three years, often with Luna by his side. Last year, she joined him more often because COVID-19 precautions forced her to go to school remotely.

While those who receive RVs own them, Faircloth estimates that 5% to 10% return them once they’re up and running so they can be donated to other fire victims.

Faircloth and Luna have spent three weekends in the past two months making the 20-hour commute from Denver to rural Northern California, where the more than 1,500 square mile (3,898 square kilometers) Dixie Fire ) destroyed 1,329 homes, businesses and other buildings since mid-July. They delivered three recreational vehicles to the fire department and one to a sheriff’s deputy.

One of them was firefighter George Wolley. He was battling the Dixie blaze on August 4 when the flames, whipped by high winds and dry 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 it. We did our best, ”he said.

Wolley parks the campervan near an air base where he still helps load fire retardants onto tank planes to fight the blaze.

“Before I got this RV I felt like I was a burden to everyone who helped me,” 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 RV to John Hunter. Assistant Chief of the Indian Valley Fire Department, Hunter has been fighting fires for 46 years. On the same day Wolley’s house burned down, flames destroyed Hunter and Hunter Ace Hardware’s home, the Greenville store his family has operated since 1929. He also destroyed a building he owned next door, a former medical clinic where the 69-year-old was born.

Hunter and his girlfriend, Kimberly Price, 57, will call the RV home as they decide to rebuild or start over elsewhere.

“It was really tough because our town is gone, and that’s all John has known his whole life,” Price said, wiping away tears as he watched a video of the family who donated the motorhome. .

Price said they would park on a lot near Greenville Junior / Senior High School, one of the few buildings still standing in the city center. This will allow him to continue to visit the ruined houses each day to feed the cats that were left behind during the evacuation of the owners.

Although Faircloth has said it is difficult to balance work, family and his nonprofit, he hopes to expand the volunteer effort. It plans to deploy recreational vehicles in hurricane and fire areas in the future to respond even faster to disasters.

At the moment, there are over 100 families on the EmergencyRV.org waiting list. It plans to travel to California in the next two weeks to make its next delivery.

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