- Author: Donovan Hill
- Author: Kathleen Mowdy
In November 2018, the worst fire in California history, the Camp Fire, devastated the towns of Paradise, Magalia, Pulga, and Concow. Over 13,000 homes were destroyed and 85 people died. From the first day of the tragedy, our local Butte County 4-H members were involved in responding to this community crisis in many ways—such as caring for displaced animals, and donating food and shelter to affected families. Our team of two Oroville Foothill 4-H Club members, Opal and Donovan, and a Durham 4-H Club member, Skylar, decided to expand our work to address the psychological and emotional recovery of the fire survivors. The culmination of our work was captured in a video by 4-H Alum Spencer Hill (see video at bottom of article).
Three months before the fire, Opal had lost her home to an electrical fire. She felt strongly that her recovery began when she was able to work on a collaborative project to help others. Opal inspired us to have our project benefit the survivors of the Camp Fire, providing opportunities for survivors to join with other Butte County residents to connect as a community.
Donovan and Skylar are musicians and know the power of music to bring comfort and connection. Our team loved the idea of recruiting community members to work in small teams to build personalized wind chimes to be given as gifts of peaceful and healing music. In the Camp Fire, the wind spread the fire and caused destruction, but the forces of nature are also restorative. The sound of the wind blowing through the chimes is beautiful and soothing.
Woodstock Chimes generously donated 125 “Bells of Paradise” wind chimes to the project.
We developed a nomination process to choose the recipients of the wind chimes. We started with the members of the Pine Ridge 4-H Club from Paradise. Each person was asked to “pass on the gift” so the nominations would create a linked chain of connections through the community. We invited them to nominate their relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, caregivers and first responders using an online form we created. Each nomination included a short story about the family, inspirational word charms to include, favorite color for bead selection, and the names of the family members to be written on the chime sail.
Again starting with 4-H, we held several “build events” with Butte County 4-H members and their families. We also arranged to bring the project to the after-school programs at Palermo Middle School in Palermo and Sycamore Middle School in Gridley. With the help of our 4-H adult volunteer leader, Wayne Hill, we facilitated team-building sessions with the students. We read the family stories shared by the nominators aloud. The students chose to build the chimes for the families that they connected with based on the stories. Reflecting on the stories of the recipients, the kids created unique and beautiful decorations on the envelopes for the gift cards that were included with the chimes. Many students added pictures and messages of hope and rebuilding.
All phases of this project have been eye-opening, but none as much as the giving phase. We met with recipients wherever they were - in Paradise, Oroville, Gridley, Chico, Magalia and beyond. We also involved many of the nominators. who appreciated the opportunity to deliver the gifts. An unexpected benefit of our project has been the excitement of the nominators, who were eager to assist us. Personally putting each gift into the hands of the recipient was the most rewarding part of the project. The emotions are overwhelming for everyone involved.
This project has done everything we hoped it would:
- We provided a way for our community to connect with people who experienced the most destructive wildfire in California history.
- With the help of Woodstock Chimes, we gave a gift of healing music to 125 families.
- We gave over 100 nominators a way to share a special gift with people they love.
- We provided a meaningful team-building experience to over 60 kids at local middle schools.
This project has changed each of us in ways we did not expect. We look forward to opportunities to share what we have learned with other 4-H clubs and fire recovery projects.
Video: 4-H Peaceful Music Wind Chime Project
At the Butte County 4-H Awards night on October 19, 2019, this original music video by Spencer Hill, a 4-H alum, was presented for this very special 4-H Emerald Star project benefiting the Camp Fire survivors.
- Author: Donovan Hill
- Author: Kathleen Mowdy
Disturbance. In ecological terms, when a wildfire rages across wild lands, there is a disturbance - a change in the environmental conditions that disrupts the functioning of an ecosystem. The process by which an ecosystem changes over time following a disruption is known as ecological succession, and it takes a very long time. Too long.
Last year, I wrote an article about our fire recovery efforts in Butte County. We worked hard and accomplished a lot in three fire zones, but restoration is not “one and done.” It takes persistence. Many of the “wildlings” (small wild seedlings) that we transplanted in the Ponderosa Fire zone did not survive the hot summer months. We knew we would need to go back the following spring and plant again, and we were determined.
Then, in November 2018, the Camp Fire raged through 153,000 acres in Butte County. After the most destructive wildfire in California history, it is hard not to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of recovery work, knowing it would be a long time before the Camp Fire zone would even be ready for replanting. But we had our plan to follow up on our work in the Ponderosa Fire zone. This time, we had fir, pine and cedar seedlings donated by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI). We knew these seedlings would have a better chance of survival.
Two foresters from SPI delivered the seedlings, provided instruction on optimal planting techniques, and worked with our crews. Many Feather Falls residents also helped with the planting, including members of the Concow-Maidu of Mooretown Rancheria, whose lands were burned in the Ponderosa Fire.
After the planting was completed, we gathered for a tasty picnic lunch provided by Mooretown Rancheria. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful spring weather and feeling of accomplishment.
Since we completed the planting, we have had frequent rain that will give the seedlings a good chance to survive. Building on this success, Oroville Foothill 4-H Fire Recovery Project is already making plans for next year. We hope to arrange for donations of fruit, nut, and ornamental trees for the families who are rebuilding in the Camp Fire communities of Paradise, Magalia, Concow, and Pulga.
As we wrap up our Fire Recovery Project this year and enter another fire season, we are hoping there will be no more “disturbances” to our wild lands. But we will be here with the help of our community, persisting in the best kind of collaboration - caring for our world!
- Author: Donovan Hill
Who wouldn't want to spend a week at a hotel with a pool? Until last August, I never could have imagined feeling anything but relaxation and happiness at a hotel. But when the Ponderosa Fire started near our family ranch in Feather Falls, my parents, grandparents and I found ourselves evacuated, sitting in our hotel rooms with only the clothes we had been wearing the day the fire started. For more than a week, we waited inside with the windows shut against the smoke, trying not to worry.
My family was very lucky to be able to evacuate and very fortunate that CalFire was able to stop the fire about 900 feet from our ranch. When we finally drove home, we were shocked to see the devastation in our mountain community. We immediately wanted to do something to help.
Every member of our 4-H Club also had been affected directly or indirectly by the wildfires of 2017.
Oroville Foothill 4-H Fire Recovery Project
Kickoff event: Erosion Control Project
For our kickoff event on October 14, 2017, we volunteered to help the Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council on an erosion control project in the Wall Fire. We visited three properties and spread rice straw on some steeper slopes to prevent soil erosion and mudslides. The homeowners were thrilled with the help and materials they received.
Spring project: Tree Planting
For the spring, Oroville Foothill 4-H Fire Recovery Project planned three tree-planting dates in early 2018. Then, we discovered that there is a shortage of tree seedlings because of all the fires in California this year. After talking to families at the Mountain Springs Grange in Feather Falls who had received some fir and pine seedlings, but no other native trees, we realized that we have thousands of small cedar and other conifer “wildlings” on our ranch that we could transplant to neighboring properties that burned.
On February 24, 2018, we transplanted 300 cedars to Bruce and Leslie Steidl's place that burned in the Ponderosa Fire. During a lunch break, Leslie Steidl talked to us about women in science and her career as a geologist and archaeologist. We learned that the land we replanted has been occupied by people for at least 6000 years.
Join Oroville Foothill 4-H's Fire Recovery Project!
Oroville Foothill 4-H also is extending invitations to other service organizations to join us in the Fire Recovery Project, including Boy Scouts, Sea Cadets and the YMCA. The more volunteers we have, the more we can do to help our communities recover from the devastation of the wildfires of 2017.
We look forward to many years of watching our local forests grow and return to the beautiful life-supporting ecosystem that we enjoy.