49 Fire: Auburn still generous, victims still needy, one month later

Thousands raised at one benefit to help ongoing recovery effort
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The 49 Fire is making people forget the burst housing bubble and shove past the remnants of a crippling recession. The community is giving and giving deeply. A month after the 49 Fire broke out Aug. 30, the Auburn area has dug deep into its pockets to rally around victims hard-hit by the loss of homes and possessions. Various charities report more than $100,000 in cash raised so far. Saturday’s 49 Fire Benefit Concert in Auburn took in $4,000, with funds raised going to Salvation Army and the Red Cross. It’s just one example of the giving that’s taking place in tough economic times for many. Speak With Love’s Travis Wright, one of the benefit’s organizers, said Wednesday that in addition to the dollars donated, the event provided a chance for friends and neighbors to come together for a common cause. Wright said he counted 15 bands, 75 musicians and about 600 attendees, as well as 51 organizations joining together for the benefit. “We’re just excited to be part of a bigger effort,” Wright said. That effort within the community started literally minutes after the fire broke out when passersby manned garden hoses and people started bringing food and clothes to donate to victims who had lost everything. Sixty-three houses and three businesses were destroyed in the most disastrous fire ever in the Auburn area, in terms of property losses. The Salvation Army is now working with 45 people whose homes were lost in the fire, said Capt. Ralph Jiminez. He estimated that roughly $40,000 to $50,000 has been donated to the army fire effort, with about half of that spent so far. Aid workers are finding that fire victims are now moving away from temporary homes that family or friends had offered. With the moves come new needs for furniture, as well as money to pay for gasoline, or even funds for tools to help them get back to work. “The community has been very generous,” Jiminez said. “But we can always use more, if it comes. If not, we always do what we can with what we have.” The American Red Cross is still tallying up donations and assisting where it can now that there is no longer an immediate emergency situation. Bob Thornton, Sacramento Sierra Chapter community outreach manager, said that the Red Cross had counted $38,400 in donations, with money still coming in to pay for its emergency response. That involved 90 volunteers working at evacuation centers, setting up shelters and providing food and clothing. Expenses for the response had yet to be covered by donations, he said. Red Cross volunteer Sheila Wright of Auburn said she’s continuing to try to help fire victims who are just now coming to aid groups for help. “I know it’s not in our realm but we haven’t stopped,” Wright said. “There’s still a lot of need out there.” The urge to help spawned Benefit in the Park on Sept. 20. That event also helped gather money for fire victims. That total was up to about $8,000 – adding to about $22,500 raised from other sources for the Auburn Disaster Relief Fund. Donations for that fund, which will be administered by a panel of community leaders, can be made through the Community 1st Bank. Steve Galyardt, bank manager, said he continues to see generosity in forms large and small. Earlier in the day, Galyardt said the fire fund had received $100 in donations from coin jars that students in Mrs. Martin’s fifth-grade class had put out for Skyridge Elementary School students to donate to. Wright said the need to reach out has been a life-changing experience for many. “When you see how devastated fire victims are it affects you in a way you never have felt before,” she said.