Union Democrat staff

As the Butte Fire continued into its sixth day, Mother Lode residents rallied to aid their neighbors.

Churches and individuals alike offered a place to stay to some of the 2,300 people who fled their homes in the fire's path.

People offered items, large and small - mattresses to people taking in evacuees, food and clothing to the various shelters in Calaveras County, pet food to the businesses that provided shelter to dogs, cats, sheep, horses, blankets, pillows, gas gift cards and toiletries.

Funky Junk owner Micki Rucker filled her Expedition and a 10-foot contractor trailer of donations. Three times.

Some who had been displaced by the Rim Fire two years ago paid back the kindness they felt. Firefighters were treated to meals in restaurants and hailed as heroes.

It was a demonstration of a community looking out for others.

"People are really stepping up," said Meagan Delaware, manager of Paws Inn, which is taking in pets from people displaced by the fire. "This community is awesome."


Funky Junk in Sonora began collecting donations on Friday.

Rucker said she took two shipments to the evacuation centers at the Jackson Rancheria Hotel and Frogtown, before it became the Cal Fire base camp, and on Sunday morning, she was packing up and organizing donations into her cargo bay to make a third trip north.

"I have also experienced the Rim Fire. Two years ago, a lot of people were displaced, places were burned, animals were let loose," said Rucker. "We're centrally located, and we just have a lot of people who just want to volunteer, and they can't drive out there so they want to bring things here, and I just thought that would be a good thing to do."

Nancy's Hope Community Center in Columbia started accepting donations Friday in partnership with Columbia Kate's Teahouse.

Owner Nancy Scott will deliver food, clothing, toys and other goods to the evacuation center at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds today and will drop off donated pet food to a shelter in San Andreas.

Scott received donations from people as far away as Fresno.

"It's just going to be a devastating thing," said Scott. "I felt led to do this, because I'm a community center, (and) these are our neighbors."

Scott grew up in Calaveras County, and a family friend from Mountain Ranch lost her home in the fire.

Online Support

Several online fundraisers have been launched through the website gofundme.com.

An effort started by Katie Clark, of Mountain Ranch, to raise money for supplies for evacuees raised $3,465 by Monday night.

Ryan Drake, of Sutter Creek, started a campaign to help Dale and Cathy Ansel, who lost a home off Jesus Maria Road in Mountain Ranch. The campaign had raised $700 of a $200,000 goal Monday.

A Mountain Ranch family will attempt to raise $5,000 after losing a home of 21 years. Started by Josiah James McGee, the campaign will help pay for the ongoing medical need of his mother and medication lost in the fire.

Denin Downing, of Mountain Ranch, also lost a home and seeks support for medical expenses for his family while he completes school at Columbia College. The campaign will attempt to raise $10,000.


At Paws Inn in Sonora, there were so many pets that dogs were doubled up in kennels and cats were in dog crates, said Delaware, who also works as adoption coordinator with Friends of the Animal Community.

Capacity is 30.

"We are way above it," she said. "We have dogs everywhere. Both places are overflowing."

FOAC transformed Paws Inn and Mono Way Veterinary Hospital into animal shelters.

"Thursday night, we got a call that the Calaveras County Animal Control needed help. We also got a call from a private person that had five cats, and they were being evacuated and they didn't know where to take their cats," Delaware said. "Friday, we went to the shelter in San Andreas and pulled all of the animals."

Even though the shelter at Paws Inn and the veterinary hospital is full of animals, FOAC does not anticipate turning any animals away. Delaware says that they will find space.

"We have crates that have been donated that haven't been used yet," said Delaware. "Our new building is under construction and is not complete yet, but the structure itself is complete. So what we've done - it has nothing in it, it's just an empty building - is set up crates in the building."

Volunteers have come by to play with the animals, clean the cages and provided food for others.

"We have had our parking lot completely overflowing with volunteers. The shelter, which has received food for cats and dogs, litter and bedding, still needs toys, blankets and towels, she said.


The James Marshall 49 Chapter of E Clampus Vitus, a fraternal foundation that puts plaques on significant points of interest, making it a historical monument with the state, has been grilling for evacuees throughout both counties.

The organization began cooking at the Sierra Ridge Winery on Saturday and continued on Sunday, congregating at Valley Springs.

However, it may never have happened without a $1,000 donation from Grand Noble Humbug of ECV Brett Morozs' boss at Perc Water.

"The chapter knew we were going to be doing some cooking, helping out the locals," said Morozs. "I just told my boss about it, wondering if the company would like to donate a little bit, and he offered up $1,000."

ECV made 600 meals on Saturday and just about the same number on Sunday. The meals have gone primarily to evacuation centers, with locals acting as runners to transport the food to each location.

"We're just concentrating on doing the cooking and they're doing the running for us," said Moroz. "They offered to help us out. They've stepped up to the plate."


The Burson Church in Burson began spreading the word about its evacuation center on Thursday and began accepting evacuees and their animals on its five-acre property on Friday.

The church has 21 sleeping cots set up within the cathedral, and one person slept there Saturday night. Most people have been camping outside - in trailers or tents - next to their animals.

"A lot of them are coming with their pet dogs. They don't want them to have to sleep alone," said Joanne Holmquist, a member of the church. Especially because a lot of these dogs are still emotional because of everything that is happening."

Holmquist said 2 to 2.5 acres are still available.

The Red Cross is operating three shelters - two in Valley Springs, Jenny Lind Veterans Hall and Good Samaritan Church, and one in Jackson at the Jackson Rancheria Hotel.

By Sunday afternoon, 370 people had registered.


Some residents in Calaveras County assisted with evacuations of livestock and large animals.

Marybeth Wiefels, owner of Cowgirl Up Ranch, a 10-acre animal rescue and equine-therapy clinic in Burson, said she's housing about 30 animals, including horses, donkeys and even a turtle.

"At the beginning of the fire, we were up doing evacuations in Amador, Calaveritas and Sheep Ranch," she said.

Wiefels said a close call came when the transmission went out on her Ford F350 pickup as she was loading donkeys and mini-horses into her trailer near Sheep Ranch with the fire drawing nearer Friday afternoon.

A passerby helped tow the truck and trailer to a flat area where the trailer could be hooked up to another truck and transported to the ranch, though Wiefels had to leave her truck behind.

Wiefels was at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds Sunday afternoon to see if there were any evacuated horses with special needs that she could take to her ranch for veterinary care.