Written by Christina Chang
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Since mid-July, the Dixie Fire has generated severe damages to the remote mountainous towns of Northern California.
The Dixie Fire began on July 13, 2021, and due to drought, hot weather, and strong winds, grew to be the largest wildfire of the 2021 California fire season by July 23. By August 6, the wildfire had grown to be the largest single wildfire in the state’s history. As of September 27, 2021, the fire has reached 94% containment, affecting 963,276 acres.
Tzu Chi volunteers first began cash card distributions in the town of Quincy on August 15. And after an invitation from local government authorities in Plummer County, additionally set up in the Local Assistance Center (LAC) in Quincy among several rescue groups. Volunteers then swiftly launched a second round of relief operations from August 19 to August 23.
On August 19 and August 20, when the second round of distributions began, three volunteers from Tzu Chi’s Northwest Regional Branch served fire survivors with love and care. On Saturday, August 21, the team expanded and the number of volunteers increased. Tzu Chi volunteers picked each other up and traveled between San Jose, Pleasanton, and Sacramento, setting off before 6:00 AM. A bus full of materials and volunteers drove for six hours to arrive in Quincy before noon and join their fellow volunteers. Several volunteers continued the relay on August 22 and August 23 to complete this second round of distributions.
Cash cards were the primary relief items provided. Dixie Fire survivors completed their application and received their cash cards on-site, so they could refuel their cars or buy daily necessities right away. Many Dixie Fire survivors expressed their appreciation for the straightforward relief at the relief events, saying, “A cash card is the most practical resource when we have nothing.”
In five days, a total of 243 cash cards were distributed in addition to 209 environmentally friendly DA.AI Technology blankets and 105 Tzu Chi bamboo banks.
Volunteers set out with cameras to conduct their assessments in the town of Greenville. Photos/Kitty Lu, Renee Liu
Always Ready to Serve the Community
Reggie is currently a firefighter in the small town of Greenville — one of the Dixie Fire’s hardest-hit areas. While Reggie’s house was luckily not affected by the wildfire, the fire station had burned to the ground, and the town’s fire department moved to Quincy for deployment in the overall firefighting efforts. On August 20, however, Reggie decided to spend his day off serving the community in a different way, donning one of Tzu Chi’s signature volunteer vests to assist people at the Local Assistance Center.
At the first distribution on August 15, Danny Manning, a local firefighter from Greenville, was deeply moved by the care he felt when he came to apply. When the second round of distributions started, Danny was on duty and asked his colleagues in the fire department to help Tzu Chi’s distribution on his behalf. The kind-hearted Reggie heard the news and offered to volunteer without hesitation.
Reggie went to the service center early in the morning, and quickly became familiar with the distribution process. He even explained the cause and concept behind Tzu Chi’s DA.AI Technology blankets, and further introduced Tzu Chi’s humanitarian missions to survivors.
Providing Direct and Straightforward Assistance With Love
When Joanne and Dan Carter, who are both over 70 years of age, received the emergency evacuation notice, they had only just laid the foundation for their house in Greenville. The couple left Greenville in a trailer and asked themselves, “Why have we been so ruthlessly attacked by wildfires two years in a row?”
Joanne and Dan previously lived in the town of Berry Creek in Northern California. In the summer of 2020, the North Complex Fires had burned the home they built with their life savings.
The couple tried their best to buy a small trailer for temporary shelter, and did everything they possibly could to raise funds in the meantime. With the urgency of evacuation, the couple couldn’t take anything with them as they fled the flames. Joanne was touched by the relief and attentiveness of volunteers, and said, “These cash cards are so important; living expenses are composed of various small expenses, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, and there is nothing left. At present, our temporary residence is several miles away from the house in the disaster area. To return to the disaster area to visit or maintain, it is really important that we can drive around to do stuff. But the gas is very expensive, any little thing can be of great help.”
When Joanne saw the sadness of Greenville residents facing the destruction of their homes, she remembered everything she had experienced last year as well, especially when applying for insurance claims. She had to report the lost items one by one for the application form, bringing back all the associated memories with them. Joanne wished to tell her new neighbors and friends that “We may have lost our house, but we cannot lose our home,” and thus, shared her journey for healing.
“Maybe God made us encounter two wildfires in a row so that we can tell survivors who have suffered the same situation that we made it through once, and we can also make it through one more time,” said Joanne. “These two experiences have let us know that the people who helped us after the wildfire last year are here again this year to help us. Some people have been caring for the survivors, and we are not alone.”
Betty Clifton is 93 years of age and also received a disaster relief cash card from Tzu Chi at the Local Assistance Center. “It’s incredible that a group who doesn’t know us at all has sent such generous donations. It’s so great, and I really thank you,” she said with tears of joy and relief.
Betty’s son, Clay, aided his mother during the fire, helping her evacuate safely. Fortunately, some friends had offered temporary shelter, but Clay still had to raise funds to rent a home for his mother as soon as possible, and help her set her life back on track. Upon learning about Tzu Chi’s missions, Clay expressed his sincere thanks, saying, “Your donation and help to us is tremendous for a moment like this. We are so happy that you came to help us.”
Paul Newton is a Dixie Fire survivor who requires a mechanical ventilator to help manage cancer symptoms. His house in Greenville was devastated in the fire. Upon learning of his situation, and during the continued spread of COVID-19 as well, Tzu Chi volunteers readily went to the parking lot to handle all of the applications outside Paul’s car.
Paul was deeply touched when he received the cash card, and said, “I need to think about how to make good use of this card. This card will definitely help me a lot.”
We’re Here for You
The Dixie Fire has been burning since mid-July, its scope vast and violent despite the extraordinary efforts of dedicated personnel. Dan McKeag, the California Fire Information Officer stationed in Quincy, explained that “The extreme fires in the mountainous areas of Northern California in the past two years were mainly caused by severe drought. In the remote mountainous area of Northern California, when it was excessively dry with strong winds, the spread of the wildfire would accelerate when the wildfire season came, and it wasn’t easy to get it under control.”
Firefighters from all over the country came to support the disaster response efforts. However, because of the ongoing pandemic, they couldn’t gather in a hotel to rest, setting up tents instead at station sites to uphold proper distance.