Washington Fire by Shawn Matthews

Columbia resident Shawn Matthews snapped this photo of the Aug. 26 Washington Fire from North Shepherd Street between Elkin and Dodge streets.

Nearly watching the home he grew up in on Golf Links Road burn in the Washington Fire on Aug. 26 reminded Ron Hamilton of the inherent dangers that come with living in a fire-prone area like Tuolumne County, but seeing the community rally afterward to help those who lost everything confirmed why there’s no place he’d rather be.

Hamilton, of Tuolumne, and local musician Kerry Tweedy have organized a fundraiser that takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora to provide relief for victims of the blaze.

“Kerry Tweedy and I thought we should do something for those who needed help,” Hamilton said. “I was born and raised in this community, and it always comes together when someone is in need, when there are so many people impacted.”

The Washington Fire started near Golf Links Road and burned 136 acres before it was contained. A total of 18 structures were destroyed, including three houses, five mobile homes, five motorhomes, two garages, one commercial building and an outbuilding. 

A body was recovered from the burn scar after the fire, though when and how the person died was still under investigation and had yet to be released as of Thursday. The cause of the blaze also remained under investigation.

Cathie Peacock, director of Interfaith Community Social Services in East Sonora, said she was told by the county Office of Emergency Services that at least 10 families had lost their homes in the blaze and registered for disaster assistance.

Peacock said she wasn’t able to find out exactly how many were represented by the 10 families, but two have already come to her nonprofit organization for aid.

“We can provide any kind of assistance they need to maintain themselves right now or to restart when they find a place,” she said.

One of the sources that Peacock can pull from is the local emergency services fund at the Sonora Area Foundation, which is where the money raised at Saturday’s event will go.

The event will offer a pulled pork or brisket dinner prepared by the Sonora-based Rockin’ Bar B Authentic Texas BBQ and performances by the bands Stompbox from 5 to 6 p.m., Burn Permit from 6 to 7 p.m., and Leilani and the Distractions from 7 to 8 p.m.

Dinner will be served with a non-alcoholic beverage, but beer, wine and seltzer will be available for purchase.

Tickets to the event are $15 per person and can be purchased online at www.rockintexasbbq.com/shop or at the entrance to the Mother Lode Fairgrounds livestock area, where it will be held. Children under 5 get in free.

Hamilton said the Mother Lode Fairgrounds Board of Directors, on which he previously served, agreed to donate the venue for the event. All other food and materials have been donated, meaning all of the money raised will go to the foundation’s relief fund.

 “It’s going to a great organization that can oversee it and have a lot of people involved in that part of it,” Hamilton said.

They have already sold 300 tickets for the event, though Hamilton said they have enough food to serve between 600 and 800.

Hamilton said the event will be entirely outdoors and COVID-safe, but people can also do drive-through pick up of their dinner if they choose.

This isn’t the first time Hamilton has sprung into action to help in times of disaster. During the 2013 Rim Fire, he and his family cooked meals for about 300 firefighters as they came off the front lines every night. 

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 768-5175.

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