As a wildfire tore through Berry Creek, California, last month, it destroyed the homes of six of the community’s seven volunteer firefighters along with the department’s fire station.
Yet that did not stop the team from working around the clock, evacuating neighbors, extinguishing the flames, and fighting to save remaining homes.
Within days, 2019 CNN Hero Woody Faircloth learned of the tragedy and sprang into action, sourcing and delivering RVs for them to stay until they can get back on their feet.
“The entire fire department had grown up in Berry Creek,” Faircloth told CNN. “It’s just a beautiful community with really proud people.”
In 2018, Faircloth and his then 7-year-old daughter, Luna, founded the nonprofit RV4CampfireFamily after watching news coverage of California’s deadliest wildfire. The Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 residences in the town of Paradise and surrounding communities, leaving more than 50,000 people homeless.
Faircloth and his team delivered more than 80 RVs to Camp Fire survivors.
There are only about 14 miles separating Berry Creek and Paradise, so Faircloth, Luna and their recently renamed nonprofit, EmergencyRV.org, got to work.
“Just having worked for the last two years with Camp Fire survivors, we just know what they’re in for,” Faircloth said.
Within a week, he and his group sourced and delivered enough RVs to shelter all of the Station 61 firefighters who lost their homes.
‘Somewhere to call home for now’
Berry Creek’s Chief Reed Rankin and his volunteer department had also helped battle the Camp Fire. Faircloth described the fire chief as “a big bear of a man. He’s always got a cigar in his mouth, and he loves his community.”
Losing his home forced Rankin to sleep in his truck. He says he lost more than $100,000 worth of tools for his drilling business.
Faircloth and Luna sourced a brand-new RV for him and delivered it personally. When they arrived, Faircloth says, the chief had nothing left but the clothes he was wearing.
The RV, which Rankin will share with another one of his firefighters, has several pop-outs and a living room. Upon seeing the RV, Rankin told Faircloth, “It’s shocking; it’s amazing.”
While thanking him, the fire chief added, “It’s a home, somewhere to call home for now. … Winter is coming on here in another month and a half, and at least we have somewhere to be.”
Despite all he lost, Rankin says he is not leaving Berry Creek.
“I’m definitely going to somehow rebuild,” he said. “Hopefully, FEMA will help us out. And I’m just gonna do the best we can, but I’m not leaving.”
Katherine Molohon is another Berry Creek firefighter now living in a mobile home provided by EmergencyRV.org. She learned that she lost her home while on the job.
“We were driving through, trying to get people evacuated, drove by my house – I said, ‘Bye house’ and kept going,” she told Faircloth.
The fire forced Molohon and her partner to live in a shed on her mother’s property before EmergencyRV.org provided shelter.
After seeing the RV that would become their temporary home, Molohon described it as “so wonderful. It’s more than words can say. This is just awesome.”
Since providing shelter to dozens of families left homeless by the Camp Fire, Faircloth and Luna expanded their mission.
They responded to Covid-19 by partnering with a Facebook group called RVs 4 MDs to provide mobile homes to frontline medical workers so they could self-isolate while continuing to fight the pandemic.
They are fielding requests from people who lost homes in the storms that hit the Gulf Coast as well as the Iowa derecho. They are also working to find RVs for firefighters in Oregon.
Faircloth describes his nonprofit as a win-win for the people donating RVs and those receiving them.
“People have RVs (that) may be used once or twice a year, or maybe they don’t use them anymore at all,” he said. “When they donate them to us, we can immediately deploy them to people that need them most. … It’s super powerful and just an amazing gift from the donors.”