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Calif. Wildfire Victims Join Forces

October 19, 1999

BELLA VISTA, Calif. (AP) _ Residents of rural Northern California who lost dozens of homes to a weekend wildfire say they will rebuild _ even if they have to resort to old-fashioned barn raisings to do it.

In unincorporated Jones Valley, people have offered to help and backed it up with their checkbooks, fire Capt. Jan Gross said Monday.

``We’ve already had donations: cash, checks and cookies,″ Ms. Gross said.

Many residents will need all that help and more. A wildfire that started about 4 a.m. Saturday swept across 25,900 acres in Shasta County, destroying 70 to 90 homes and about 200 other structures. More than 2,000 people helped fight the fire about 180 miles north of Sacramento.

The fire, fanned by winds gusting to 40 mph, caused at least $6 million in damage.

The fire was 85 percent contained by Monday, and firefighters expected to finish digging a trench around it by midnight.

Officials think it may have been caused by a campfire, though the investigation was continuing, said California Department of Forestry spokesman Henri Brachais.

Jones Valley’s 15-member volunteer fire department was the first to respond. Now the fire hall, built with volunteer labor from the community, has become the spot for information and moral support, though that’s nothing new.

``The bridge club meets here, the poker club meets here. Everyone has keys to the place and can come in when they need anything,″ says Ms. Gross, whose department gets about $8,000 a year _ most of it from donations _ to protect more than 300 homes.

Ms. Gross said people have volunteered to help rebuild the homes even if they have to pound the nails themselves.

A few miles south of Jones Valley in Bella Vista, all that was left of the Cross Roads Baptist Church was the sign.

``We’re going to rebuild bigger and better and keep on doing what we do,″ said Pastor Ken Landers, sifting through the pile of smoldering ashes. Among the few identifiable items was a hymnal opened to ``Trust Only Him.″

Several churches have offered assistance and one collected more than $1,000.

If the damage estimates hold, the Shasta County fire will be one of the season’s most destructive blazes, said state forestry spokesman Rex Buthmann.

About 50 miles northwest of Sacramento, investigators blamed arson for a fire that burned more than 42,000 acres. At least one house was burned, and hundreds of firefighters sought to keep it from damaging more property.

In Trinity County, a fire that began two months ago has so far burned 117,000 acres. And along the Central Coast, two fires in the Los Padres National Forest continued to burn after scorching more than 85,000 acres.

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