Fire victims gather by campfire

Shelly Dalgleish signs up for an appointment with the U.S. Small

LOS GATOS
– The same touch of Mother Nature that looted their homes,
disabled their land and forced their neighbors to retreat in tears
served as a rallying point for victims of the Croy Fire Tuesday
night.
LOS GATOS – The same touch of Mother Nature that looted their homes, disabled their land and forced their neighbors to retreat in tears served as a rallying point for victims of the Croy Fire Tuesday night.

Huddled around a small campfire providing warmth on a chilly night high in the fog-draped Santa Cruz Mountains, roughly 50 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters whose lives will be forever altered by the area’s worst wildfire in 17 years released frustrations, gave thanks and directed a barrage of questions at local government officials during a meeting.

“It was kind of ironic that the fire in this case served as the comfort point and set the tone and let us share information back and forth in a conversation form,” said Terry Gitlin, a representative with county’s Office of Emergency Services.

“These residents have been through a lot, and them coming together tonight has helped get questions answered and hopefully find some solutions to the problems that are so frustrating during this recovery period.”

As the thick, cool fog marching from the Pacific began to nestle up to Summit Road, nearly hiding the quarter-full autumn moon, the only light at the remote and rugged Ormsby Volunteer Fire House flickered from the small campfire.

Circling the fire was a community of people who chose this rough and beautiful area 2,000 feet above Gilroy as their home, in some cases cradling a rural lifestyle that runs generations deep. These people who called the 34 structures destroyed by the Croy Fire and four damaged structures home – from non-permitted, uninsured and illegal single-wide trailer homes to mansions – filled the crisp mountain air with shared concerns.

Looking across the fire at the residents was District 1 Supervisor Don Gage, who brought a large entourage of representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service, American Red Cross, California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention and Santa Clara Valley Water District to inform the residents of resources available to help them get back to normal.

“We want to get you folks as many resources as we can,” Gage said, sitting by the fire and wearing a thick flannel shirt. “We don’t have all the answers here tonight, but hopefully we can give the phone number of the people that do.”

Methods of erosion prevention, waste removal, rebuilding permits, road maintenance, future evacuation plans and how to obtain low-interest bank loans up to $200,000 were all discussed by the various government officials.

As the information session began to turn into a question-and-answer forum, several members of the crowd started to voicing their frustration with the county’s handling of the fire.

One resident asked if he could be reimbursed for his fence and 17 acres of land that CDF crews “back burned” to try and keep the fire from spreading. Some other residents complained of the county’s lack of maintenance on the public roads in the area and unfair permit policy.

One woman said she and her family are camping on their charred land until they can rebuild their home. She’s afraid the county will make them leave because they don’t have the required permits.

“We’re not going to kick anybody off their land,” Gage said. “We are being very flexible right now.”

But for the most part, the meeting had a positive dialogue, with the crowd breaking into rounds of applause for the work of the Red Cross, CDF and the county.

“I’m really happy I came tonight because after listening to Supervisor Gage speak it really sounds like he’s here for the community,” said Shelly Dalgleish, whose home near Loma Chiquita and Loops roads was destroyed by the blaze that torched approximately 3,000 acres of forest and caused more than $4.4 million in damage to dwellings and personal property. “Everything we heard here tonight sounds great. … But, we’ll see what actually happens.”

Libby Sofer, the volunteer Fire Chief at the Ormsby Fire Brigade that covers all the dirt roads in the area, said she was shocked at how many resources were available to the victims of the fire.

“Now a lot of us in the area have leads on where to go and a little more insurance for our future,” said Sofer, whose team of volunteers in the area worked for two weeks to put out spot fires in the area. “I think this session let people know that working together and with the county can really ease the recovery process.”

A loan officer with the Small Business Administration will be available at the CDF headquarters in Morgan Hill from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4:30 p.m. today through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through Nov. 2. For more fire victim information call the CDF at 800-488-5323.

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