Helping Strangers in Need as California’s Dixie Fire Rages On

Northwest  |  October 14, 2021
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Written by Cody Chan
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

Since July 13, 2021, the still active Dixie Fire has already destroyed 1,329 structures, damaged another 95, and caused 1 fatality. By now, it has spread to five California counties, including Butte, Plumas, Shasta, Lassen, and Tehama, located northwest of the state. In conjunction with Plumas County officials, Tzu Chi San Jose volunteers packed up their supplies and headed to Chester, CA to hold a series of distributions beginning September 16. They would nestle into the FEMA & CAL OES Disaster Recovery Center at the Almanor Recreation Center and begin providing emergency help to impacted families.

Volunteers including CM Yung and Tzu Chi Northwest Region Executive Director Minjhing Hsieh walk care recipients through the cash relief process. Photos/Cody Chan

Main relief items included warm, DA.AI Technology eco-blankets (made from recycled plastic bottles), bamboo banks, a letter of encouragement from Dharma Master Cheng Yen, and emergency cash cards (loaded with funds for care recipients to use on their most pressing expenses). Over the course of three days, Tzu Chi volunteers granted a total of $14,900 in emergency relief funds to 87 separate households.

One care recipient, Nicolas Michael Bracknell, told us about the difficulty he’d faced in receiving help. He’d lost his trailer home, filled with the only memories he’d had with his late father, and emotionally explained that his request for aid was turned away by other organizations. Nicolas, whose body and face is covered in tattoos, said, “I don’t know if it’s because of my tattoos or how I look or whatnot but, this program, they overlooked all that and they could see that I needed help, and I appreciate that.” Spending time with Tzu Chi volunteers willing to listen to his troubles, Nicolas said, “God bless you guys. This program right here has compassion and understanding, and they helped me when nobody else would.”

The remains of the Bartlett family home after the Dixie Fire. Photo/Cody Chan

Another pair of care recipients were Sherry and Kevin Bartlett. They had shared a beautiful home for ten years in Canyondam, CA, with two dogs and a small nest of chickens. The area was surrounded by trees, offering privacy and seclusion. This was home. After the Dixie Fire, home is a trailer. Recalling the events that led up to their house burning down, Kevin told us they were able to save the dogs, but not the chickens. Visiting the remains of their home, Sherry showed Tzu Chi volunteers what was left of the chicken coop, too. “It was devastating,” Sherry tearfully told us; “it’s the worst feeling ever. You just want to go home.” “If you haven’t been through it,” Kevin emphasized, “it’s nothing you can explain to anybody.”

Back at the Disaster Recovery Center in Chester, Sherry remarked on the care they were shown by Tzu Chi volunteers: “I thought Tzu Chi was really amazing. You guys were thoughtful, helpful, and cared about what was going on in our life, even though you never met us before.”

Tzu Chi volunteers make a trip to Greenville, CA, seeing a city left destroyed. Photos/CM Yung

Tzu Chi volunteers also visited Greenville, CA, a once historic town. It was now a wasteland after the Dixie Fire. Buildings were burned to the ground, and street lamps had been melted down to the floor. Seeing the devastation first-hand, it gave Tzu Chi volunteers who’d been helping fire survivors all across northern California, a reminder of why putting compassion into action is so crucial – and why it’s essential to help our neighbors, whether we know them or not.

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