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Woodland Hills pays it forward with benefit concert for California fires

December 14, 2018

Woodland Hills, Elk Ridge, Payson and Spanish Fork residents came together Thursday night to raise money for those in Paradise, California who lost homes and businesses to the Camp Fire. These south Utah County residents know how close they themselves were to losing homes and businesses in the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires this September.

The towns held a “Hope for Paradise” benefit concert Thursday featuring Hilary Weeks, David Butler, Cherie Call, local choirs and performing groups at Salem High School.

“So many of us in this area who were able to come back to our homes safe and sound — we felt so much empathy and sympathy for the people of Paradise,” Weeks said Thursday before the concert. Weeks is a singer-songwriter, speaker and author, and also a Woodland Hills resident herself. She was among the many residents who evacuated in September when the wildfires threatened the town.

Weeks was one of the organizers behind the fundraising concert. While Woodland Hills and other Utah towns were untouched during the Utah wildfires, Paradise did not fare as well. The Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires burned almost 121,000 acres, but no lives or major structures were lost to the flames. The California Camp Fire burned about 153,000 acres and killed at least 88 people. Thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings were destroyed.

“You never know what Mother Nature will send your way,” said Kari Malkovich, city councilwoman for Woodland Hills and a fellow organizer of the event. “This could’ve been us. They are similar to us — they are a mountain community, a small town among the trees and the hills. We feel a connection with them in more ways than just the fire.”

Malkovich explained as they watched Paradise burn, they knew how easily that outcome could have been here in Utah. Residents in these Utah towns intimately know that fear and uncertainty.

“We couldn’t stand still. We had to reach out. We know, in a very small way, what they felt,” Weeks said.

Malkovich felt it was fitting that the concert was exactly three months since Woodland Hills and Elk Ridge residents had to evacuate their homes.

“There was no guarantee as we came off that mountain. You were hoping for the best, praying for the best, but really, you have no control over the outcome,” Malkovich said of evacuating in September.

Some of the firefighters who kept the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires from sweeping into the towns also fought California’s Camp Fire, Malkovich said.

Throughout the concert, Weeks and Butler, who co-hosted the night, joked that unlike other concerts, the audience should keep their phones on and text all their friends and family throughout, asking for more donations. Butler delighted in sharing updates on how much had been raised in between songs.

“I feel a little like a telethon,” Weeks said laughing.

By the end of the concert, the effort yielded about $20,000. Weeks and Malkovich and other organizers will continue the fundraising effort a bit longer. Those that want to still donate can do so at https://woodlandhills-ut.gov/product/california-fire-relief-donation.

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