Berry Creek Fire Safe Council

Berry Creek, California

Berry Creek destruction from after the September 2020 wildfires.

As of May 2021, there have been 2,615 fires in California with 15,458 acres lost. In 2020, the state had a total of 9,639 fires, blazing through 4,397,809 acres, destroying 10,488 buildings and accounting for the third costliest year of fires in California totaling $12.079 billion.

Behind these frightening statistics are the stories of people; people caught in the fires, fighting fires, losing everything to the fires and desperately trying to get best practices in place before the next fire. 

In this aerial photo, a burned neighborhood is seen in Paradise, California on November 15, 2018.

Denise Bethune saw the writing on the wall during the worst fire in California. November 8, 2018, the Camp Fire broke out in Butte County. It would become the deadliest, with 85 victims, and the most destructive fire ever recorded in California. 153,000 acres were burned and 18,800 buildings were destroyed. Insurance losses totaled $10 billion.

Denise and her family had settled in Berry Creek 13 years ago. In her own words, Denise describes what her home meant to her: “Our journey brought us to our property in September 2008. We fell in love with our property and it’s charm. We put blood, sweat and tears into making it our own slice of paradise. Many days and weeks spent cutting blackberries, and discovering the beauty of the forest. A labor of love! It is a magical place! For the first time,  I found peace in myself and found out who I really was! My home had healed my soul and I was truly happy to be me!…That dark cloud had disappeared. “

Destruction from the wildfires taken by community member.

But on November 8, 2018, the Camp Fire felt like another dark cloud. It was only 2 miles away from Berry Creek and Denise Bethune’s home. Denise thought, “If the winds that were funneled through the Sierra that morning had blown south instead of north, it would’ve been Berry Creek that suffered, not Paradise.” With the release of the Butte County Grand Jury’s findings on what could be done to avoid another disaster, she started getting to work.

A FireSafe Council meeting.

“I’ve gone to politicians, I’ve gone to scientists…. I went to [state Sen. Jim] Nielsen with the grand jury report — I took that to him too — and I had outlined and noted everything,” she said. “Everything I outlined I said, ‘This is what we need in Berry Creek.'”

But try as she might, the message wasn’t getting through. “‘It’s just frustrating when you know what needs to happen, but it’s not a rich area, per se,’ Bethune said. ‘With the population, we’re pretty low income, and we don’t get the attention.’”

Flames consume a home and car as the Bear Fire burns through the Berry Creek area of Butte County, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Denise fought for two years to draw attention to what could be done to avoid fire hazards in Berry Creek, but in September 2020, before the work could be done, the unthinkable happened.

Bear Fire in Berry Creek, California. September 11, 2020

News reports indicate “On the morning of Sept. 8 (2020), two remote fires converged above the middle fork of the Feather River in Plumas County. Flames raced down the steep canyon walls and jumped the water, igniting a ferocious crown fire on the opposite side…The blaze rolled southwest like a wave, as canyon-funneled winds launched red-hot firebrands ahead of it, preheating its path. The fire overtook Berry Creek that night and killed 15 people in the county overall, many of them in the rural town as they tried to escape.”

Devastation is seen at Berry Creek Elementary School in Sept. 9, 2020, after it was destroyed by the Bear Fire overnight. The blaze, part of the larger North Complex burning in Northern California, exploded in size Tuesday night and into Wednesday, forcing evacuation warnings and orders for at least 20,000 people in Butte County and reportedly inflicting widespread damage on the foothill community of Berry Creek. Jason Pierce JPIERCE@SACBEE.COM

To further complicate things for Denise, “the night before, PG&E cut off power and she and her husband couldn’t use their well to get water and hose down their home.” Her home burned down and was gone.

Home burned down in the Bear Fire in Berry Creek, California. September 8, 2020

Denise, her husband and three dogs, Jasmine, Dottie and Gracie, live in a trailer parked on her son’s orchard near Chico, and she continues to do the work of informing residents of Berry Creek how to make their homes and neighborhoods “Fire Safe,” through home visitations, our chipper program, video programs, and community outreach.

Written by Michele Gielis

Links

California residents critique efforts to reduce fire risks, LA Times, by Joseph Serna, October 26, 2020

Northern CA’s Wildfire Risks Were Known but Got Little Help, GovTech, October 26, 2020

Facing new fire threat, PG&E cuts power to tens of thousands, AP News, by Olga R Rodriguez, October 14, 2020

A California Town’s Fire Protection Plans hit Red Tape. Then it Burned to the Ground, Wall Street Journal, by Jim Carlton, September 17, 2020

Another California firestorm in which warnings did not prevent mass deaths, Smoke Jumpers, via LA Times, September 12, 2020

Berry Creek power pole concerns, Actions News Now, October 23, 2019

Contact
Denise Bethune

Website/social media

Climate impacts
Wildfires

Strategy
Nature-based solutions
Halting bad development
Renewable Energy

501c3 tax deductible
Yes

Accepting donations
Yes – donate here.

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