Ashley Diaz, mom of two, with another on the way, was in her home of 16 years in Happy Camp, CA on the evening of September 8, 2020, when neighbors came by with a warning; a wildfire was bearing down on their area.
“She quickly started evacuating, grabbing sippy cups and formula, her phone, and her dad’s ashes on her way out the door, even as her family told her she was overreacting. And without time to put on a pair of shoes or secure her daughter in a car seat, Diaz drove out of town. When she returned, she had lost everything in the blaze, later named the Slater fire.” Mother Jones, 6/15/21.
Ashley feels sure that if another 20 minutes had passed before they left the house, her family would have been caught in the fire. Her house had been the first to burn.
In Happy Camp, 150 homes were destroyed, 2 people died, and before it was over, the Slater Fire burned more than 150,000 acres. Almost a year later, many properties aren’t cleaned up, and many families remain homeless. For those who didn’t have insurance and didn’t get any help from FEMA or local authorities, including members of the Karuk tribe, there are few options. For a time, the Karuk tribe was able to loan residents trailers, and they are now being returned to the tribe.
Ashley spent time in the last year with a a newborn baby, one and a half year old, her four-year old, her boyfriend, and her mom and mom’s dog all in one trailer. This summer she is moving into a new home, although without her belongings that were lost in the fire. She fears her neighbors and friends will never be the same again after this experience and just wants to get her community back to normal life.
In the short term, Ashley is working with her community to try to get homes rebuilt and her neighbors resettled. In the long term, Slater Wildfire Recovery will work with Anthropocene Alliance’s partner the Thriving Earth Exchange to try to address the risk of fire hazards and build the community’s voice.
For now, they stick together and offer comfort and resources in mutual aid. In that, they have gained a great deal. As one member of their Happy Camp Strong Facebook group put it, “Slater fire took so much but it also gave us all new friends 💕 thank you 💕 for All your love.”
Written by Michele Gielis
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