MSullivan / MICHAEL SULLIVAN/News-Review File photo
Al Jenkins sorts through donated items in Roseburg this February
to deliver to victims of the Camp Fire.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN/News-Review file photo
Al Jenkins sorts through donated items to deliver to Camp Fire
victims this February in Roseburg.
On Monday afternoon, Al Jenkins was beginning his third week without power since the snowstorm that hit the county in February. He’s been living in his camper since then, and he estimates the damage to his property will likely cost $30,000 to repair.
But Jenkins’s mind wasn’t on his own troubles.
He’s much more focused on the plight of about 3,000 Paradise residents still without homes following the deadly Camp Fire that began in November 2018. Jenkins has taken several trips down to dispense cash, camping supplies and food to the victims of that fire, some of whom escaped with no more than a car or even the clothes on their backs.
Jenkins had been staying in a camper outside his home on Callahan Ridge all that time. A power line fell on his porch, and he had just moved one car when he and a friend observed a tree leaning toward his other car.
“I said that tree’s leaning, and the guy that was there with me looked up and said yeah it is, that tree’s leaning. And then I heard a pop, pop, pop. We watched it fall. Like a minute later, it fell right on top of the car,” he said.
His vineyards escaped the storm unscathed, but his apple orchard was so damaged only a single tree remains. His barn was also damaged.
Notwithstanding his own challenges, Jenkins remains undeterred in his plan to return to the Paradise area at the end of the month, and he’s once again collecting donations.
He’s tried to see his own situation as an adventure.
“In some ways it’s been kind of fun. I don’t mean fun like going to a carnival fun, but it’s been a really interesting learning process,” he said.
And he said it’s nothing compared to what the Camp Fire victims have had to deal with.
“Their house is gone, their way of living’s gone, employment, if they had it, was gone. It’s just, everything’s gone,” he said.
Imagine all of Roseburg, and Green, burned to the ground. Houses, businesses, schools. And all the people who didn’t have family or connections somewhere else are left with nothing but maybe the family car, if they’re lucky, or the clothes on their back. Living under donated tarps in parking lots in a neighboring town.
On his California trips, Jenkins has found many people sleeping in tents and cars, even in the snow.
Most of the Paradise survivors are staying in neighboring communities of Oroville, Chico and Magalia. While there’s electrical power to the lots on which their Paradise homes used to sit, there’s no shelter. The water is contaminated and the sewer service isn’t repaired.
Those who were able to leave already have, Jenkins said. Those who remain generally don’t have insurance or support networks. If they have family and friends, they’re also from Paradise and are in the same boat they are.
They’re disproportionately the elderly, the mentally ill and people with limited income, he said. They aren’t able to rent or buy a new place to live.
There’s a church in Magalia that’s been feeding about 500 meals a day, but that community is about 17 miles uphill from the valley floor where most are staying.
The Red Cross shelter has shut down and two thirds of the other relief agencies and volunteers have left. The burden is now all on a few churches and a relief agency that ordinarily helps the chronically homeless.
“It’s beyond tragic. I can’t even think of the words, because it’s just depressing and it’s horrifying and it’s reality, and it’s down to the point now that the only help these folks are going to give them is what people can put together and take to them,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said on his next trip to California, he wants to bring camping gear like blankets, sleeping bags and camp stoves. He also needs nonperishable foods, gift cards and cash. He’s already got a few tents to bring down and doesn’t need any more. He has started the paperwork to create a 501©(3) nonprofit, and plans ultimately to expand his relief efforts to respond to other disasters.
To help out in the Paradise relief effort, contact Jenkins at 541-580-7707.