Paradise Campfire Relief - Kerston Family

$31,900 of $50,000 goal

Raised by 329 people in 29 days
The only word that continues to accurately surmise our family’s situation this last month is “apocalyptic.” The #CampFire in Paradise, CA has destroyed our home, our neighborhood and our entire community. Everyone we know lost their homes, the restaurants we ate at are gone, trails we hiked are no scorched wastelands, places where we shopped are all reduced to smoking rubble. Our mechanic, the woman who cut our hair, all the people that make up a community are all displaced and their businesses are obliterated.

We had a firefighter friend take us to our burned home, to rescue our chickens after a few days without anyone to feed or care for them. As we drove through our old familiar streets, the town that once stood, looked worse than even the news reports could full capture. The expanse of the devastation is almost impossible to take in. It’s clear that no one is going “home” any time soon. We are still technically under evacuation and it doesn’t sound like people are going to be let back in for a while.

Our family’s old dog Chico still continues to be missing. He was somewhere between 12-13 years old. I got him from the shelter in Oroville when we was between 1 and 2 years old. He was a tough old ranch dog. He protected our animals and our family on a number of occasions. Yet, he was so INCREDIBLY loving and gentle with the boys. The animal shelters don’t seem to have an effective chain of custody in place. We don’t know if he’s out fending for himself, at a shelter or animal hospital, or died a horrible death during the fires. We all choke up every time we think about it. A number of people have searched our yard and his body was not found there. We have talked to all of the shelters numerous times and sent them photos and descriptions. Right now there are somewhere around 12 different facilities caring for dogs. He is also microchipped and we have had our contact information updated. The likelihood of him being found alive diminishes with every passing day. It is heartbreaking to think about what everyone’s animals have been through or how they may have met their end.

As former ranchers, the responsibility to be able to provide proper care for the animals you care for is so deeply ingrained in who we are. Kelsey was headed back into the fire specifically for our animals when the canopy of pine trees a few miles from our house exploded in flames and she reluctantly had to turn back. She spent the next 3 hours in a fiery struggle trying to get out through what she could only describe as hell on earth. The first fatalities found were people who died in the cars trying to flee. It’s no overstatement to say that she barely escaped with her life!

Now that the fire is out here are some numbers that attempt to quantify the destruction in tangible numbers, but of course numbers can never fully do the trauma justice :

·   90%+ destruction of the town of Paradise
·   153,336 acres burned or 239.5 sq miles
·   52,000 people evacuated
·   88 fatalities - 203 still unaccounted for
·   This fire has been officially listed as the most destructive fire in California history
·   Possibly the fastest burning fire in recorded history

This article further quantifies the unparalleled destruction of this wildfire:

Beyond our dog, it’s the little irreplaceable things that continue to play over and over in our minds. Kelsey’s wedding dress. An original Leatherman that I’ve had for nearly 20 years. Some bookcases that my dad, a carpenter and custom cabinet builder, made special for me. So many signed copies of books from some of our favorite authors and friends. A pocket watch that my grandparents gave me when I graduated. My grandfather died in January of 2017 and the pocket watch sat on my desk every day right next to his glasses. Handmade quilts from family members. Kelsey’s great grandmothers stand mixer. Canned food that we had been storing up for winter. An antique table that Kelsey’s mom bought as her first piece of furniture when she went to college and then gave to Kelsey when she went to college. A snow village that Kelsey’s grandma bought for her piece by piece and gave to Kelsey over many holidays during her childhood. I had hard drives full of photos and videos of the boys, all ready to go in an emergency – we just couldn’t actually get home. All those photos and family videos are gone. We had lots of old multigenerational photos of family members on our walls that can never be replaced. We have shed our share of tears over the last two days as we have worried about our animals, the irreplaceable keepsakes, and what the future looks like for the town we loved.

We are starting this page because we have had so many loving people ask us to start it so that they can share it and know how they can send help.

As a family that prides ourselves in taking care of ourselves, it’s difficult to ask for financial assistance but if you can afford to donate money our costs to get through this troubling time will no doubt be significant. Any gift cards would also be greatly appreciated.

Prayers, positive thoughts, chants, good juju, encouraging rays of light – whatever you believe in – any and all warm wishes are so greatly appreciated.

Please feel free to share this.

People have asked where they can send things and this is our current address:

Chris and Kelsey Kerston
15865 Thiel Way
Grass Valley, CA 95949

And here are our clothing sizes:

Shirts: Extra large
Pants: 34X32
Shoe size: Mens 12
Suit Jacket Size: 42R

Tops: Medium
Pants: 4-6
Shoe size: Womens 10

David (6 years old)
Shirt: 5-6 or Small
Pants: Boys 6
Shoe size: Boys 1

Danny (11 years old)
Shirt: Medium
Pants: Boys 12
Shoe size: Mens 7
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We went back to the house today. We found the dog, he ran into the garage and hid under my work bench where he burned alive. I’m so beyond sad!!!! I really believed we’d still find him.
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Check out this piece by 60 Minutes on the Campfire in Paradise. It’s very well done.
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We’ve had a busy holiday weekend and I have not been able to post an update in a bit. The boys, Kelsey and I had two great Thanksgivings. We had one last week with her mom, grandma and aunt in Calaveras County and then later in the week we drove to Southern California with my parents and enjoyed a day with my dad’s family. It was A LOT of driving but so good to have a little reprieve with relatives.

Furthermore, Kelsey and I can’t begin to thank you all for all that you have done to lift our spirits, outfit us with new clothes, shoes, all the basic essentials, and support us financially. Both of our employers, the Savory Institute and CCOF, have been AMAZING, supportive, and very understanding of our situation. Our most immediate needs have by in large been met and now we are trying to sort through the bigger next steps.

We spent a day at the Disaster Recovery Center, at the old Sears building in the Chico Mall. The majority of our efforts there were spent reapplying for all our major documents that burned, things like: birth certificates, vehicle titles, marriage license, social security cards, passports. We are about halfway through that process. We have applied for aid with FEMA (which also requires that you apply for an SBA loan). We are waiting to hear back about that. We have started the process of filing our insurance claim. Even though it’s clear that the value of our loss FAR outweighs our coverage, we still have to go through and account for every item that was burned in our home, from memory, and assign a value to it. It’s an arduous and painful task.

We have not yet received any financial assistance from any non-profits or government agencies. When we went to the disaster center, we showed up about an hour before they opened and started waiting in line. By the time we got to those agencies (Red Cross, Salvation Army, CalFire) they were all out of the gift cards we had heard they were giving out. We are going to wait in line again tomorrow on our trip back to Chico. All that to say we’d literally be lost without your support. Without the financial support from individuals and local businesses, I’m not sure how we’d be making it right now. We have raised our GoFundMe goal to $50,000 as we’ve further accounted for what it will take to put our lives back together.

Now that the house is gone, we are trying to figure out our long-term housing needs. Right now it doesn’t look like FEMA is going to provide a housing option like they have in other disasters. Our understanding is that the federal government chose to defund that section of FEMA’s assistance. The current word is that 80 trailers are coming, for 50,000+ displaced individuals. However, even with so few, no one can decide where to set them up. The town of Paradise is still under lockdown by national guard while officials continue to search for bodies and try to bring some level of safety to the area. The students at our local school’s have been relocated to other schools. Everyday that our former community spends away from “home,” the less likely they will be to come back. People are scared, they are tired and frustrated, they are starting to put down roots elsewhere. Over half of the people that Kelsey and I have spoke with have said they will not be coming back to rebuild. Hearing that is an added layer of heartbreak. If someone could get a large-scale temporary housing option in place, I think we could start to inject hope back into Paradise.

We are currently staying at my grandmother’s house in Grass Valley about 1 hour and 45 minutes away from our former home. It’s so great to be somewhere familiar, but it’s not the same as being home. I’m not sure that at previous times in my life when someone spoke of losing a home to fire that homesicknesses would have been the emotion that I would have thought of first for their situation. However, it has been one of the strongest for Kelsey and I. Everyday we come to terms a bit more with the idea that this isn’t just a long trip, but that we aren’t going home.

On top of that our community has been dispersed - during many natural disasters communities band together. I remember going through the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and seeing how the whole neighborhood came together to help one another. With everyone displaced, we only have social media to connect with the other evacuees, but thank goodness for that - it’s been so healing to be able to relate with everyone else’s struggle and frustration, even if only through a digital platform.

We have a plan in place that will get us through until the New Year but after that we’re not really sure where we will live. Rental homes are non-existent at this point within about an hour drive of the kids’ school; real estate prices have spiked and people were making inflated cash offers on homes the first week. I’ve heard that there isn’t even enough surplus housing in the entire state for everyone that has been displaced. Because the boys’ mom lives in Chico and that’s where their school is, we cannot move out of Butte County. So that’s our biggest challenge to tackle right now; how to get back.

And we are still looking for our dog. It’s hard to think of what he may have suffered. We check in with the 12 shelters that have taken dogs every day. It’s been 19 days since this horror began. We’re beginning to lose hope that we’ll find him. Whether he is dead or alive, I can’t begin to imagine what he’s suffered.

It’s a tough time; still so much uncertainty to wade through. We are so grateful everyone’s patience and empathy right now. THANK YOU!
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Here is a brief update and down below we’d like to highlight some other friends that could also use some support.

Kelsey and I will never be able to fully express in words how grateful we are to you and our global community of supporters. We feel a bit like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. Our family has been mentally, physically, and spiritually cared for with a level of depth that I honestly didn’t even know existed. People have been AMAZING! Our experiences have been earth shattering and every day, this last week, Kelsey and I have both shed tears. However, a surprising amount of those tears have been of joy. The ways in which people have reached out are countless. Individuals we have never met have sent us money, much needed supplies, clothes and shoes, cards, prayers, and hugs. People have got us storage units, shipped us furniture, set us up with wifi, given us tools, given the boys toys and art supplies, the list goes on and on.

We no doubt have challenging times ahead. We are having daily discussions about where to go from here. We were also a little surprised to learn how under-insured we were. Both Kelsey and I thought we had more coverage. We have so many unknowns and the exercise and opportunity that we are both learning is how to continually make peace with that.

The other thing that has surprised us is how homesick we are – not for the stuff, but for the sense of place. There is just nowhere like your home where you feel comfortable and relaxed, and nowhere like your community where you feel fully like you belong. It still feels a little unreal that we are never going home, and even more unreal that our town will need to be rebuilt as something new and different. Different is scary, but it can be good – but the old Paradise is very much gone. That’s a tough pill to swallow. We have great hope for what can be rebuilt – but the town we knew and loved is no longer.

We are also still looking for our dog. It has been a frustrating, heartbreaking ordeal. Please pray that whatever he has endured, that he is not, or did not suffer. We have tons of people looking for him and he is chipped. We are holding on to hope that we will be re-united or at least at some point learn his fate.

We are constantly reminded though that SO MANY people have it worse off than we are. There are still throngs of people in shelters with nowhere to go. And now norovirus has broke out at some of the shelters, compounding an already horrible situation. The Walmart parking lot in Chico is full of poor and elderly people sleeping in tents. Our Facebook feeds are full of friends who lost their homes, businesses, pets, and people. The death count rises daily. Kelsey and I fear it’s only the beginning of what the final number will be. When Kelsey called me from amidst the horror of trying to escape herself and told me she wasn’t sure she was going to live, she said then “people are for sure dying right now and there is no way to help.”

Again our hearts abound with generosity for those that have shown us a new depth of love. Our prayers go out to those still suffering. I want you all to know from the bottom of our hearts that as we get back on our feet and settled that we will pay your generosity forward.

Thank you!!!
Chris & Kelsey

We wanted to share a list of other people that you might consider helping or at least sharing their support pages throughout your networks.

Jess and Ben
These are two of Kelsey’s oldest friends. Recently, they moved to Paradise, bought their first home, and then had a beautiful baby girl, Penelope, who is now 5 months old. Like most people, they lost everything. These two amazing individuals are all about community. Jess works at a local museum that focuses on hands-on kid education and Ben is a musician and music teacher. They could really use support during this time.
Ben is from England and Jess is from Spain, so when Ben’s sister set up their Go Fund Me in Britain it got set up British Pounds, it’s totally easy to still make a contribution though.

Our dear friend Laura, ran an organic salon in Paradise. We’ve not yet heard about her home in Magalia but it most likely is gone and her business is destroyed. She is such an amazing soul and has battled with health issues this last year, and her and her husband care for her elderly father-in-law who lives with them. They don’t have a GoFundMe page set up yet, but here is her website if you’d like to reach out.

Cheetah and Samantha Zangrilli are two incredible organic and regenerative farmers over in Concow (the community on the other side of the river). Much of their farm and their animals were spared, but they lost their home. They are such wonderful people – the kind of people that make up the glue of a society. They are always working to make our world a better place!

Tri Counties Fund
Our local bank has set up a fund. I’m not sure yet how it will be dispersed but I have hope, the bank’s reputation for serving the community, that it will be properly operationalized to truly help those in need.
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$31,900 of $50,000 goal

Raised by 329 people in 29 days
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