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Locals help victims of the Camp fire

Ashly Peters knew the Camp fire was going to leave people hurting.

She and her mother, Peggy Peters, saw the flames rushing across the hills south of Redding as they were driving back to their Ashland home Nov. 8.

“It was just devastating,” Ashly said. “There’s nothing that grabs your heart worse than a bunch of people and families losing everything they have.”

Tuesday afternoon, Ashly was crouched in the bed of her maroon Ford F-250, organizing an array of suitcases, rolls of paper towels, blankets and boxes of diapers. By Wednesday, they would be on their way south with a community care package Ashly orchestrated to help those devastated by California’s deadliest wildfire.

“It just worked out, everybody really wanted to pitch in today,” Ashly said, standing in the south Medford Walmart parking lot as one woman after another pulled up to drop off donations ranging from gift cards to school supplies intended for a teacher Ashly connected with who is holding classes in her home after most of their elementary school burned.

The teacher told Ashly that five children in the class still have a home.

“Your heart ... it just breaks,” Peggy said.

The Camp fire has traveled at speeds of up to 50 mph. But social-media users can mobilize almost as quickly to try to get help to their southern neighbors who have lost everything.

As stories circulate of residents who lost all their possessions — along with an estimated 80 to 90 percent loss of all structures in Paradise — watchful outsiders are eager to give whatever they can.

In Jackson County, social media users are honing their donation process in blue-and-white comment sections, sharing links to stories and resources that tell them what’s needed and what isn’t to provide meaningful relief to survivors.

Members of the Jackson County Scanner Facebook page shared a list of local aid efforts posted by the Record Searchlight newspaper in Redding. It includes United Way of Northern California, The Salvation Army and Pleasant Valley Baptist Church among the organizations taking financial donations.

Clothes are a commonly offered item, but authorities close to the situation in Northern California say that lack of space is a barrier to effectively administering that kind of aid.

The Tehama County Deputy Sheriffs Association, which reported an influx of evacuees arriving Sunday, posted on its Facebook page Monday afternoon that a donation center at Salco Better Energy, Inc. was overrun with clothing donations. The association asked instead for camping materials, luggage, food, new socks and underwear.

At least 52,000 people have fled their homes because of the Camp fire, and surrounding communities are struggling for space to house them. Evacuees who have lost their homes have no place to store items they receive.

Clothing donations often require laundering, which eats up volunteer time, and communities can end up spending money to discard donated items that go unused or are unusable.

Visa gift cards are a versatile option, as evacuees can use them to buy what they need when they need it.

The “Camp Fire: Help For Victims!” Facebook page has ongoing updates about the immediate needs of survivors from various areas.

Communities affected by earlier wildfires are also continuing to rebuild, which is why Ashly and Peggy Peters are considering a second aid trip to towns such as Hornbrook, still recovering from the Klamathon fire.

“It turned into a bigger thing than I anticipated, but it’s awesome,” Ashly said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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