Three Concow Fire Victims Return to Volunteer-Built Homes – Chico Enterprise-Record

CONCOW — Three victims of a camp fire in Concow now have a place they can call home.

On Friday morning, the Camp Fire Collaborative and Mennonite Disaster Relief dedicated three new homes to Camp Fire victims, built through community efforts with disaster relief funds and volunteerism.

Cheryle Harrell, a Concow resident who helped feed and shelter the local community after the disaster while homeless, was one of three recipients.

“It’s just wonderful. I am overwhelmed. We are here,” Harrell said.

When Harrell lost her home in the camp fire, she lived in evacuation centers for months and ended up staying outside. When she was finally allowed to return to her property, she rebuilt her water well and said her property had become a mini camp for fire survivors.

Cheryle Harrell smiles outside her new home on Friday, March 25, 2022 in Concow, Calif. (Michael Weber/Enterprise-Record)

“I must have had 60 or more families living on my property; we had kids and stuff everywhere,” Harrell said. “We made it, and then they were able to go back to their own land and get their own place, but that was where everyone was piling up.”

Eventually, Harrell was connected by her case manager to receive reconstruction at no cost to her.

“This is my home; this is my community. We’ve got some nice ones here, some nasty ones here; I’ve dealt with them all,” Harrell said. They all know they can come to my door for anything.

The homes were funded by donations from several local nonprofits and faith-based organizations and were coordinated by the nonprofit Camp Fire Collaborative, which executive director Bruce Yerman said has helped 1,500 families secure housing permanent.

Yerman said the nonprofit is rebuilding for campfire victims and using volunteer labor — including Mennonite Disaster Relief for those three homes — to keep costs down.

“The cost to build the house without volunteers would be around $250,000. With volunteers, the cost to rebuild this house is around $140,000,” Yerman said. “That’s why these voluntary reconstruction organizations are so important.”

At Friday’s dedications, the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation brought housewarming gifts, including a proverb from their spiritual leader, and the Mennonite Disaster Service presented recipients with memorial decorations; house blessing and prayers; a Bible; and sang “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”.

“My grandma used to sing this song to me,” Harrell said.

Mennonite Disaster Services team leader Herb Hoover said the service, which has operated in Pennsylvania for more than 70 years, helps build homes in disaster areas across the United States and Canada. The service is made up of a network of volunteers from churches across the country and board chair Michele WhiteEagle said they have produced the equivalent of $5 million worth of volunteer work amid the COVID closures.

“We come here because we do this as part of our belief system that we are all children of God and we are going to take care of each other any way we can,” Hoover said.

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