Making a Difference in California Fire Recovery

Apr 17, 2018

Making a Difference in California Fire Recovery

Apr 17, 2018

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.

Sadly, last year my family was not alone. In 2017, thousands of families across California experienced evacuation from their homes like we did, and many also lost their homes. Over 500,000 acres burned in California in 2017. More than 10,000 structures burned. Tragically, forty-three people died as a result of the wildfires.

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

We decided to create a Fire Recovery Project in Oroville Foothill 4-H Club and invite all 4-H Clubs in Butte County to join us.

Because we didn't know where to begin to make the biggest difference, we contacted a local fire recovery organization, the Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council, to advise us. Brenda Rightmyer, the Managing Director of the Council, came to our Club and talked to us about the Council's history and fire recovery efforts. Ms. Rightmyer gave us ideas about how we could help.


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.

Cedar seedlings
Cedar seedling
The same day, another Oroville Foothill 4-H crew planted trees at a property in the La Porte Fire area in collaboration with Yankee Hill Fire Fire Safe Council, Oroville Rotary Club, CA Hope, Mendon's Nursery, Golden Feather Volunteer Fire Company, Bangor Feed Store, CrossFire (debris clean up), Christian Aid Ministries CAM (cutting down large metal), Jerome (hauling metal and burned cars), and Butte County Bin Program - Recology.  


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.

For more information about the 4-H Youth Develpment Program in Butte County, please contact 4-H Program Representative Nicole Marshall-Wheeler at