The River Fire was one of two recent events in the life of Whitney Isetta that is forcing her and her family to rebuild not only a home, but a whole new life.
Rewind to just ten days before the fire sparked on August 4th. Whitney was at her parents’ home in Colfax with her family. Their home sits on an adjacent parcel to her property and house – a “dream home” she built 12 years ago to raise her son and daughter. They are gathered to say goodbye to Whitney’s mother Beth who passed away peacefully after a battle with cancer. For the next 10 days Whitney and her sister began to weed through and box up treasured mementos of her mother. They placed the boxes in Whitney’s basement and began the process of grieving and caring for their father.
Days later, as her kids swam in their pool, they got word of the fire just 3½ miles down the canyon at the Bear River. “I just assumed, like other spot fires, this one would be put out soon,” recalls Whitney. “I worried about my friends at the Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary down the hill more than I did my or my father’s house.”
Whitney jumped in her car to help load the 82 animals at the sanctuary. Within 40 minutes she got a call saying she had just five minutes to gather her belongings and evacuate her home. Her kids and her father had already left. When she arrived, her property was in a cloud of black smoke. “There was a red glow everywhere and from my bedroom window I could see flames down the canyon. I grabbed a pillow case and threw in my medication, my glasses, a top and a pair of shorts. I also grabbed a painting off the wall of me with my mother and my sister and was thankfully wearing my mother’s ring. That was it. I loaded the car with our cats and dog and drove to my friend’s home in Weimar.”
It took nearly three weeks for Whitney to gather the strength to go back and see the property. Both homes burned to the ground. Everything was lost. Today, Whitney and her two children live in a small in-law unit above the garage of her friend’s house. Her father has been staying in a hotel in Auburn. Soon they will all move into a rental in Colfax where they will begin the long process of rebuilding their homes. Both Whitney and her father are receiving money provided by the River Fire Relief Fund and her friend started a Go Fund Me page to take in donations.
“One of the silver linings of this devastating event is that my Dad and my kids are witnessing such incredible generosity from family, friends and the community,” states Whitney. “My Dad has led a reclusive life and can be pessimistic at times. This has renewed his faith in humanity. I can see the change in him.”
When asked if she was hesitant to build again on the property in Colfax Whitney paused and said, “Yes, I was. But the property is so special to us and my kids and I now have the opportunity to build a new home together. It will never be what it was, but it will be ours.”
The River Fire consumed 2,619 acres in the Colfax area destroying 102 residences and damaging 12. An additional 39 outbuildings were also destroyed. Your gift is now providing the financial resources needed for basic support as they wait on insurance claims and work to rebuild their home, belongings and in some cases, their livelihood.
We give special thanks to the following lead donors that helped match all the individual gifts we received in the community. Together a staggering $244,800 was raised in a matter of weeks!
Grants totaling $244,800 were distributed as follows:
• $157,300 to the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Foundation which is partnering with the Colfax Area Chamber of Commerce and Placer County Health and Human Services to identify and provide money to fire victims in Placer County. To date, 75 households are being funded with dollar amounts ranging from $750 – $2,500 or more based upon their level of need. Needs include funding for long-term rent or hotel stays, clothing, food, gas and household furnishings.
• $77,500 to the Nevada County Relief Fund, a volunteer group that is working directly with Nevada County to assess immediate relief efforts to individuals and families. This fund is fiscally managed by the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation. Gift cards are being distributed based upon level of need. • $10,000 to American Red Cross, CA Gold Region who supported direct assistance to the 247 people at the evacuation shelters. Red Cross also provided a recovery team at the Assistance Center in Colfax where they helped with fire kits, water, clean up kits and case management to local families.
Let’s prepare now and have resources ready for when wildfires strike in Placer County
The board and staff at Placer Community Foundation are deeply concerned by the frequency of wildfires taking place in Placer County and in our neighboring counties. We know the likelihood for fires with increased devastation like we saw with the River Fire is high. In 2020, our region experienced a record 23 days of 100-degree heat over a 30-day period. The increasingly hot climate combined with overstocked forests, lack of defensible space, and overgrown, dry vegetation are the contributing factors that make our community vulnerable each year. The time is now for PCF to be prepared to respond with philanthropic dollars when needed.
Please consider a tax-deductible donation to PCF’s Fire Relief Fund. This fund is designed to grow over time with pooled contributions. When a fire strikes in our county, and lives are directly impacted, PCF will identify partners who can direct these dollars to assist with needs such as food, clothing, housing, and much more.
We are better when working together to help all our neighbors in need.