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Close-knit community rallies for Paradise

Like everyone else, the vivid Camp fire images beaming into her living room were unfathomable.

For Bethany Harper, the heart-piercing reality hit home in more ways than one.

The owner of Sethany Knits on East Main Street in Medford grew up in Paradise, California, a community that was virtually wiped off the map by hellish flames last week.

Her mom’s home is gone, so is her father’s residence. Had her brother not set his alarm earlier than normal on Nov. 8, when fire engulfed the town of 27,000, he may have been among the scores of dead or hundreds missing.

Saturday, a crowd of fellow Rogue Valley knitting enthusiasts joined Harper to show support for their fire-ravaged Northern California counterparts.

“This really reinforces the reason I bought the shop,” Harper said. “It builds community. When other areas are in need within the same craft we want to immediately step in and fill that need because we know what we would be going through if we were in the same boat. We had a great turnout.”

Seth and Bethany Harper moved to the Rogue Valley in fall 2017 when Seth took a job with Frito-Lay. Bethany Harper acquired the yarn shop from Jennie DeBunce in July, becoming the enterprise’s third owner in 15 years.

The Harpers still own a home in nearby Magalia, one of a half-dozen other Butte County communities evacuated.

“As far as we know, the fire came right to the outskirts of the neighborhood. It looked like that neighborhood was saved, but with the entire community evacuated we just don’t know what that will mean.”

The property management firm handling the house burned to the ground, she said, and there has been no word from her renters.

“My mom still lived in my childhood home, and it burned,” Harper said. “My dad’s house is gone, too, but all of my loved ones and friends have been able to escape.”

Her 18-year-old brother Joshua normally sleeps in, she said. Not long after the alarm sounded, he and a friend saw the flames coming and fled. Harper’s mom is staying with a sister in Chico, and another sister just recently moved from Paradise to Chico.

“As a yarn enthusiast, I know what it would mean to me to lose my yarn and supplies for knitting and crocheting,” she said. “For me, it’s therapy, it’s how I am able to pass the time when I’m worried about something or when I just need to relieve stress.”

One of the shop’s regulars, Cathi Aiello, pondered the idea during the August Carr fire that ripped through parts of Redding, 85 miles to the north of Paradise.

“I never acted on it, but when the Camp fire happened, and impacted Bethany and her family, I knew I had to do it,” Aiello said.

Capitalizing on Harper’s social media presence and contacts, the knitting community came through with yards of yarn and a room’s worth of additional supplies.

Fellow knitters and crocheters packed donated supplies Saturday; some wrote notes.

The kits include patterns, along with the appropriate amount and size of yarn, crochet hooks or knitting needles, scissors, tapestry needles, along with note cards of encouragement. In an effort to help displaced survivors pass the time, word search puzzles, Sudoku games and books will be included.

“There are a lot of little things you don’t think about that make a difference when you’re doing a project,” Harper said. “There will be lots of yarn for all kinds of projects.”

She plans to coordinate with a Chico knitting shop to help out people who lost their yarn stash or needles.

“For the yarn enthusiasts from Paradise that have lost all of their supplies, we’re hoping that this can really minister to those in evacuation centers, who need something to pass the time when they’re not sure what else they can be doing.”

Aiello anticipate a reprise next week, perhaps targeting evacuees who have made their way to hotels and motels.

“We’re going to be reaching out to the lodging industry,” Aiello said, “to see if they would be willing to work with us as the hotels start to fill up.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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