Happy Camp Wildfire Survivors

On September 9, 2020, we received an email from Dave McCracken, Founder of the New 49ers gold mining group based in Happy Camp, California, asking someone to set up a GoFundMe account for two of their employees, as he couldn't travel to Happy Camp due to the Covid-19 lockdown. These young women and their families lost everything when the Slater fire roared through Indian Creek near Happy Camp.  

As members of the New 49ers since 2015, we regularly receive newsletters and updates on the happenings around Happy Camp. The time we spent in Happy Camp was some of our best between the people we met through the New 49ers, and the time we spent enjoying the wild areas of the western states mining for gold. It has always been our plan to return to the small northern California town when our familial obligations have been fulfilled.  

We’re on the other side of the country, but wanted to help however we could. So, when Dave asked for help setting up this account for these two young women, we immediately raised our hands. Thank you for taking the time to read the story of their lives and families as they’re determined to rebuild their homes in Happy Camp, California. 

My name is Victoria Armstrong, and I work at the 49ers office in Happy Camp. My grandparents, Ray and Cricket Koons, were actually the first members of The New 49ers all the way back in 1986; so I have been associated with gold prospectors since I was old enough to pan for gold.

I have lived in Happy Camp my whole life. I just recently started working at the Head Start program in our town. I have also organized and run a free dance class for all the youth in our town for the past five years. I try to volunteer when it comes to any type activity for the kids in our community.  Plenty of New 49ers have integrated into local communities along the river in similar ways.

My husband has also spent his entire life in Happy Camp. We have been together for 15 years. We have three children. My daughters, Mary - 11, and Autumn - 7, and our son, Lance - 5. My husband was a logger for 10 years, before moving to work for the Forest Service, where he’s worked for the past 6 years.  

We bought our home six years ago but had to gut and rebuild the whole inside due to animal damage ignored by previous owners. We just got done building our woodshed, shop, and chicken coop. My husband logged the trees for the poles, plus we milled all the wood ourselves. We had just finished all the remodeling, and after all the work we put into our home to get it so our family was comfortable … It is now all gone.  

On September 7, 2020, we woke up like every other day to get the kids to school and start work. My husband called me at work and told me there was a fire close to our house. There was no time to pack anything. We grabbed our two dogs, but our cat was nowhere to be found. So, we had to leave the cat as the fire was coming down on us like an overwhelming, thundering monster that was moving very fast. We are actually lucky to be alive. Thank god the car started or we would not have made it! 

Now there is nothing left. Everything we worked so hard for is gone. My kids have nothing except the memories. This is a very emotional time and a hard thing to write about right now. Ours is just one of many other lost homes. We were just allowed back into Happy Camp today, so it is all a bit unreal. Most of us in Happy Camp are walking around in disbelief and shock, not really knowing what to do.

My name is Christina Johnson and never in my life did I expect to become homeless at the age of 26 with two little girls … Lileigh age 6 and Violet age 2.


My fiancé Brandon and I grew up in Happy Camp. I moved away for a few years, but the mountains called me home. I now work at the New 49ers where the miners have quickly became a huge part of my life.  All of the members are so friendly, it is like belonging to a great big family. I haven't been working there long, but I quickly began to enjoy greeting everyone each morning and learning about gold mining as well as discussing the laws and basic mechanics of gold mining, which I was going to start implementing on Indian Creek that runs right through what used to be my backyard. I am told there is a lot of gold in the creek. I would have enjoyed having my daughters learn along with me. After all, they are the future of mining. But before we could even begin our new adventure, the Slater fire charged down Indian Creek like a wild freight train, destroying everything in its path. The entire event has been like something that happens to someone else in a horror story. I remain is a state of disbelief. My whole family is shaken to the core. The fire had already engulfed our home and all of our pets before we could even get there. The angry power of that fire will be etched in my mind forever!  We are left with nothing but the clothes on our backs.

I want to rebuild what we had. I want my daughters to grow up in the Happy Camp that we all know and love. To grow up playing in the creeks, building forts, playing in the woods, and following their dreams, whatever they may be. I hope we can all come together to rebuild our community not for ourselves, but for the next generation.

Organizer and beneficiary

Paula Hutson
Oakland, MD
Victoria Armstrong

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