Friday night a crowd of about 100 people gathered at The Brewstation Pub and Coast Fork Feed Store in downtown Cottage Grove to raise funds for victims of the Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California. The Brewstation poured local beers from Pelican and Backside brewing while Black Lung Riot, One Dollar Check, and Neil Gregory Johnson —all musicians from Southern Oregon— performed on a stage set up in the middle of a closed off street. Meanwhile local artists sold paintings and handmade jewelry in a silent auction. The mood was festive, but the reason for the event was tragic.
All of the proceeds from the United By Fire block party will be donated to low income and uninsured families along the Lake County, Mendocino County line. According to Laela McCready-Fuller, the event’s organizer and a manager at The Brewstation, the event proceeds will be directed through the National Disaster Relief Fund to reach those most affected by the Mendocino Complex Fire.
The National Disaster Relief Fund, which describes itself as the only nationwide charity of its kind, is a non-profit agency dedicated to providing direct monetary assistance to those who have lost their homes to natural disasters.
McCready-Fuller worked closely with the fund’s president and founder, Clinton Pipkin, to insure that the money raised would be focused directly to specific families whose homes had been destroyed in order to maximize the fundraiser’s impact.
McCready-Fuller and Pipkin coordinated with North Coast Opportunities, a Ukiah, California based non-profit that identified 10-12 families as recipients of the relief funds based on the severity of their need. According to their Facebook page North Coast Opportunities will still be accepting applications for relief funds through September 14.
“It’s a celebration with a purpose” said McCready-Fuller, “A gesture of solidarity to a sister community in California, they’re going through their darkest times right now.”
According the the National Wildfire Coordinating Group the Mendocino Complex fire, which has been burning since July 27, has destroyed 157 residences. An additional 13 residences have been damaged. 123 non-residential structures have also been destroyed and 24 have been damaged.
Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett, 42, of Draper, Utah was killed August 13 while fighting the fire. Three other firefighters have suffered non-fatal injuries.
The blaze is known as a complex fire because it’s actually two separate fires burning in close proximity. The smaller River Fire has burned 48,920 acres and is now fully contained. As of Sept 3, the much larger Ranch Fire is 97 percent contained and has burned 410,203 acres. The complex is the largest fire in California’s history surpassing the 281,893 acre Thomas Fire which burned across Southern California in December of 2017.
Numbers, as McCready-Fuller told the crowd gathered outside The Brewstation, do not illustrate the extent of the tragedy. “The loss of a home or personal item such as a picture of your grandparents or your grandchildren, they’re items that are no longer attainable. Precious personal items that are gone forever.”
The impetus for the United By Fire benefit came from a humble Facebook post. Adam Rubino, a Cottage Grove resident who grew up in Lake Port, California posted an idea he had. “I wanted to do something to help and obviously I don’t have a lot of money to help the families that have been burned out of their homes and it was like well what do we have, we have music and we thought it would be a good idea to put on a concert, get a few bands together, get a bunch of people together and try to raise money to help and it seemed like a great idea but it was just an idea.”
The idea immediately got traction. Across Southern Oregon wildfires are a very tangible reality. Smoky skies and precautionary measures have become the norm. Losing one’s home to fire is a real and rational fear for many Cottage Grove residents.
This closeness to the issue was an important motivator. Rubino said that many people wanted to help but did not know how. His suggestion for the concert gave them something to focus their efforts around.
That’s where McCready-Fuller came in. She saw Rubino’s post and knew that she could help. Over the course of the last month she worked to line up bands, artists and breweries. She even secured an anonymous donor willing to match contributions up to $25,000.
In the end the event was a great success. As of Monday night The Brewstation had raised over $1,300. Donations from the artists and brewers are still being tallied, and a Facebook donation page remains open Events like this serve as important reminders of the power of local community and regional advocacy. Mccready-Fuller hopes that United By Fire will inspire similar grassroots philanthropic efforts. She believes they will continue to be crucial as the alarming trend of more and larger wildfires in the western states continues season after season.