California wildfires: Communities pitch in to help their neighbors

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CALIFORNIA – It’s the flicker of hope that burns among the ashes of Northern California’s wildfires.

Three people have died so far. One is a 72-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis who couldn’t get out of her house ahead of the Valley Fire, fire officials said. The other two — a 66-year-old man who didn’t follow evacuation orders and an elderly person found by cadaver dogs — were killed about 175 miles southeast in the Butte Fire, according to Calaveras County coroner Kevin Raggio.

More than 20,000 managed to flee both those fires. And they’ve lost a lot in the process.

But, to them, much is also being given.

Sophie Lauterborn calls it a “tsunami of generosity.”

She lost her home in Middletown to the flames. A friend is putting her up.

The greater community has rallied around the victims, with both material and emotional support.

“I tell my friends, I haven’t seen anyone crying alone,” Lauterborn said. “I find a lot of resilience, fortitude and kindness.”

At the fair

Nowhere is the community’s outpouring more evident than at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga.

It’s home to an estimated 1,200 people. Many have little more than their cars and the clothes they’re wearing. It’s a tent city.

Bill Djernes, his daughter and his young grandson only had 10 minutes to escape the fire.

“So many people didn’t expect this to happen and even then once it started you thought, ‘Oh no, no, no this isn’t real,’ ” he told CNN affiliate KGO. “You know, you either had to run or die, so we ran.”

The people in this makeshift community need the same things folks anywhere else would need: food, clothing, medicine, baby formula, even pet supplies.

The Red Cross and people from the area are meeting most of the needs.

Patricia Trimble said she had to help. She was a victim of last year’s Napa earthquake that did so much damage.

“People didn’t turn their backs on me,” Trimble told KGO. “I won’t turn my back on them.”

Making progress

The good news is that firefighters have gained some ground.

The Valley Fire, which has scorched 70,000 acres in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, was 30% contained as of Wednesday.

Some communities in the affected areas had a 50% chance of rain overnight. The National Weather Service doesn’t expect any precipitation Thursday, though no significant wind — which can fan the flames — is forecast either.

Centered about 50 miles southeast of Sacramento, the Butte Fire has scorched slightly more territory. But 47% of it was under control as of early Thursday evening.

Keeping the faith

Back at the Napa County fairgrounds, volunteers are serving up food and distributing clothes. Musicians are hosting impromptu jam sessions.

“We’re just here to try to bring hope and encouragement, just a place for people that are kind of downcast right now,” said Dave Henderson.

Lauterborn said, despite losing her home at 69 years of age, she’s not about to give up.

“How’s the town going to recover?” she said, repeating the question she was asked. “I don’t know. Spirit, you know, the American frontier. That’s the theme right there.”

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