Heroes of the Carr Fire
The Carr Fire was the seventh largest and most destructive wildfire in California history. The fire burned 229,651 acres and destroyed over 1,000 homes while damaging 277 others. With the loss of seven lives and damages exceeding $1.6 billion, the community was rocked to the core.
I moved to Redding as the fire was still burning. The impact of the fire was clearly visible and drastic. Once the fire was contained and the smoke cleared, I got the opportunity to be a part of a group of creatives, named 'Faces of Redding', tasked with capturing the stories of some of the people that survived the fire. We encountered people who lost all they owned and people who risked everything to save neighbors and strangers; it was simply amazing to see and hear how the community came together to help one another. These are the stories of some of the heroes.
Rick has lived and raised his family in Redding for more than twenty years. As a motorcyclist for Shasta County’s Search and Rescue posse, Rick was a part of the house to house evacuations during last summer’s Carr Fire. Encased by his helmet and goggles, this man’s kind eyes and jovial countenance beamed through the chaos and smoke, as he rallied people to seek refuge from the advancing wildfire.
The aftermath of the Carr Fire has left many houses in his neighborhood, as well as his own house, completely razed to the ground. A seasoned general contractor over the past forty years, Rick has become a pillar of reconstruction to their neighborhood. He chuckled as he recalled his neighbors coming to him after the fire, “They called me and said, ‘Rick, just put me on the list! We want you to rebuild our house.’ So, I’m going to rebuild this neighborhood!”
Rick is a man of great loyalty and love. He will not just fight for his own flesh and blood, but for the ones that he encounters on the path of life.
Written by: Nellie Johnson
Kenny and Connie
She is whimsical, he is the adventure. Together the two are inspirational. Connie and Kenny lived in Shasta Lake in a mountaintop home the two built themselves forty years ago. At two in the morning, they got a call that the Carr Fire was coming over the slopes in the direction of their home and that they needed to evacuate. Before any plan of action, Kenny got Connie to safe ground. With two one-thousand gallon tanks, fifteen fifty-gallon drums of water, mister systems and firehoses, Kenny was going to stay, fight the fire and protect their home “The adrenaline just rushed. It was like preparing for battle,” Kenny said. Without a moment’s notice, the fire had come over the mountaintop and Kenny charged into action, drenching the house and the ground around it. In the midst of dumping drums of water and putting out small fires, a part of the fire exploded and a one-hundred fifty foot flame shot into the air. In that moment, Kenny realized that he could not hold the fire off any longer and had to leave to join his wife in safety.
Moments after getting word that their house had not survived, Connie and Kenny went immediately to city hall to request a building permit to rebuild their home, four days later they had all the permits for septic and water, and within weeks they had their building plans. “We were twenty-one when we did the first house, sixty when we do the second, we’re saving the best for last” they say as they gaze into each other's eyes.
Written by: Alyse Keller
Brett and Trista
They were separated when the chaos began, but the waves of people seeking medical attention and the need for medication took priority in the lives of Brett and Trista. With ten-hour back-to-back days in the Emergency Room, Brett worked at Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding to bring aide to countless medical emergencies. But a problem began to surface. Many people who fled the fire zones did not know what their medications were, nor brought them during the evacuation. With a limited medical supply, Shasta Regional was backed into a corner. Medication is expensive and time was short. Considering that many of the patients were not able to breathe well, Brett quickly made a phone call to Trista, who works at Owens Pharmacy in Redding.
Trista knew exactly what to do. Time was precious and people were suffering with the smoke in the air. With corporate permission, Trista began to fill and run prescriptions to the hospital in rapid succession. The “dynamic duo” were able to get countless prescriptions to those hurting because they worked together. Trista didn’t just aide Brett at Shasta Regional, but another physician, a local nursing home, and the local Red Cross as well that would text or call Trista to fill prescriptions or deliver antibiotics.
There were many cases of patients who left home without their psychiatric and diabetes medications, but there was one circumstance that was very rare. A young girl around the age of four needed a very specialized heart medication that was solely filled by UC Davis. It is Friday night at Shasta Regional and the family had left behind the girl’s medication at home in the evacuation frenzy. With no time to lose, Brett and Trista decided to create a compound that would hold her over until she could get to UC Davis. The couple had to count on their medical expertise considering that the medication was tailored to her specific heart condition and that Brett and Trista did not have the prescription with them to duplicate.
“The fire was a wake-up call,” Brett commented, but one thing they noticed during the evacuation and the distress in the air was that community came out of the woodwork and worked together to make a difference. Brett and Trista were one of the major backbones in the medical operation during the Carr Fire, and thanks to their expertise, quick thinking and teamwork, countless patients at Shasta Regional, the Red Cross, and a local nursing home were able to receive aide.
Written by: Alyse Keller
Redding Parks Team
When the Carr Fire reached the radio towers and the generator failed to kick in, a power outage fell upon the city. With radio being the main source of communication for the police and fire department, as well as with the City of Redding, communication was hindered. Kevin, from the Building Maintenance department, with the City of Redding, rode up the Whiskeytown dirt roads toward the radio towers, to fix it. Within twenty hours of the fire starting, Jim, Chris, Brody and Travis, who are with the City of Redding Parks Department, were deployed in Whiskeytown to clear the roads so that emergency response vehicles could go in and come out with ease. With chainsaws ready for action, Jim and Chris made sure a caravan of six vehicles behind them, made it out of Whiskeytown safely. Brody and Travis, on their way up to Whiskeytown, found themselves on the highway when the fire jumped across Highway 299. For the crew, the Thursday of the fire was a long day, they were up early and stayed up all night to keep the roads through Whiskeytown clear.
The onslaught of the fire dissipated, yet the long hours were not over for the crew. Each man in the Parks department is in charge of specific areas throughout the city of Redding. From the Sacramento River Trail to maintaining every tree in Redding, each man had his work cut out for him. “It’s certainly a different type of job than we normally do,” stated Jim. The men found themselves cutting burnt vegetation and trees for days on end. Working a month and a half with smoke in the air and ashes everywhere, the Parks department would find even the inside of their nostrils all black with soot. Yet they continued clearing the parks for the public.
“It’s just ordinary people from Parks and Building Maintenance going up and doing these things,” said Chris. Ordinary people? Yes. But the extraordinary tenacity that drives these men to enable swift responses in times of crisis and to restore the spark of life to Redding."
Written by: Nellie Johnson
Brandi grew up in Redding and was the Director of Sales and Marketing at Holiday Inn. During the Carr Fire, Brandi set her skills to hosting firemen from out of town. When fire crews arrived, they were required to find their own lodging-- one crew even asked to sleep in their trucks outside Holiday Inn. Brandi firmly insisted they sleep in the hotel ballroom, which became what the hotel staff referred to as “the dorm” for the next month.
With the firemen came a lot of soot and a lot of dirty laundry. On the first night, Brandi took home some bags of clothes to wash. Yet there was more laundry than one person can wash alone, so Brandi posted on social media to recruit help and the help came running: 55 people washed 100 loads of laundry per day. Firemen from other hotels heard about the laundry services and brought their own dirty clothes. Brandi’s team put together a “bag and tag” method to return the right clothes to the right fireman.
While washing laundry was crucial, Brandi gave even more. On a normal day, she coordinates dinner events; but during the fire, Brandi made sure the firemen staying at the Inn had food to eat. She also turned the private dining room into a 12 hour massage station for the 150 men staying at the hotel: firemen, PG&E men, dozer crews, and a power crew. In the midst of the craziness, Brandi also hosted evacuees in the hotel, including coordinating toy drives for the children.
The list of things to do went on as Brandi watched her hometown fill with smoke until she couldn’t see across the street. What was expected to last a week or two turned into over a month of constant firefighting--and more soot, more laundry, more meals. Brandi and her family lived in the hotel for thirty days, surrounded by the smell of fire--a smell that stuck to the hotel for some time after the crews left.
Throughout the fire, Brandi was a hero who gave of herself, who saw a need and met it. In return, she saw Redding unify around a common goal and her faith in her hometown was restored. Now, Brandi has a vision to see individuals in Redding help one another and “get our town back bigger and better than what it was.”
Written by: Elizabeth Burkwhat