California wildfire victims join forces to rebuild

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BELLA VISTA, Calif. - Residents of rural Shasta County hamlets that lost dozens of homes to a weekend wildfire say they will rebuild - even if they have to resort to old-fashioned barn raisings to do it.

In unincorporated Jones Valley, people have offered to help the community rebuild, including pounding the nails themselves if needed, fire Capt. Jan Gross said Monday.

''We've already had donations: cash, checks and cookies,'' Ms. Gross said.

Jones Valley's 15-member volunteer fire department was the first to respond to the wildfire that started at about 4 a.m. Saturday and swept across 25,900 acres in Shasta County, destroying 70 to 90 homes and about 200 other structures.

The fire department is also the first place many residents are going for information and moral support. That comes as no surprise to Ms. Gross. After all, the community's residents built the place.

''The bridge club meets here, the poker club meets here. Everyone has keys to the place and can come in when they need anything,'' says Ms. Gross, whose department gets about $8,000 a year to protect more than 300 homes. Much of her budget comes from donations.

Ms. Gross said she didn't think the wildfire wiped out her treasury, but she hasn't had time to look.

A short distance away, Muriel Elliott watched fire engines drive by her small grocery store for two days. The Hidden Valley Market stayed open for all but a few hours, providing free coffee for firefighters and residents.

Ms. Elliott said her phone has been ringing constantly with calls from worried residents and their friends and families.

''Fortunately, I've been able to tell people 'your house is just where you left it','' said Ms. Elliott, who on Monday was still a clearinghouse for information about whose house burned and which roads were closed.

The Cross Roads Baptist Church was at the center of nearby Bella Vista, a few miles south of Jones Valley. Though the 20-year-old church was next door to the fire hall, it didn't help. Only the sign now remains.

''We're going to rebuild bigger and better and keep on doing what we do,'' said Pastor Ken Landers, sifting through the pile of smoldering ashes. Among the few identifiable items was a hymnal opened to ''Trust Only Him.''

''That must be right,'' Landers said. Several churches have offered assistance and one collected more than $1,000 to help.

Bella Vista Fire Chief Rick Sherman said the fire station itself was nearly lost in the wind-driven blaze.

The fire caused at least $6 million in damage. If the estimates hold, it will be one of the fire season's most destructive blazes, said Rex Buthmann, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry.

Another blaze near Redding, a September fire in Happy Valley, about a half-hour southwest of Jones Valley, destroyed about 50 houses and 110 other buildings.

This weekend's fire was 85 percent contained by Monday afternoon, and firefighters expected to finish digging a trench around it by midnight.

The fire is under investigation, but officials think it may have been caused by a campfire, CDF spokesman Henri Brachais said.

More than 2,000 firefighters battled the Shasta County blaze, about 180 miles north of Sacramento.

Hundreds of them headed to Yolo County on Monday, about 50 miles northwest of Sacramento, where investigators were blaming arson for a blaze that burned more than 42,000 acres.

The largest burned more than 40,000 acres and threatened numerous homes as it burned from Yolo County into Lake and Napa counties. At least one house was burned, and firefighters were trying to keep the flames from other homes in a vacation area near Lake Berryessa.

In remote northeast Yuba County, about 50 miles north of Sacramento, a fire had charred 9,000 acres and was at least 50 percent contained Monday.

In Trinity County, a fire that began two months ago has so far burned 117,000 acres. And along the Central Coast, two fires in the Los Padres National Forest continued to burn after scorching more than 85,000 acres.


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