After California fires 'of biblical proportions,' governor raises $5 million for victims
The United States had the three costliest catastrophes in the world in 2018. The number one disaster cost more than $16 billion. USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO – Less than four weeks ago, California’s then Governor-elect Gavin Newsom decided to add a concert to his inaugural lineup, with the aim of raising money for victims of the devastating wildfires that swept California in 2018. The almost spur-of-the-moment event ended up collecting $5 million.
The California Rises concert filled a packed Sacramento sports arena Sunday and featured rappers, rock bands and a duo from the town of Paradise itself, Cold Weather Sons, whose song “One of These Days” about the destruction of their hometown went viral in December.
Attendees paid $25 for tickets, with the money going to the California Fire Foundation, a Sacramento-based non-profit that supports firefighters and fire victims. The concert almost tripled the annual revenue of the tiny non-profit, which has just three paid staffers.
The whole event was “out of the blue,” said Brian Rice, who chairs the foundation’s board.
As of Thursday, the board hadn't even had time yet to meet to discuss what to do with the windfall, but Rice vowed that as much as possible of it would go to the communities that suffered in the state's ferocious wildfires.
Since November, the foundation has given out $2.6 million in gift cards to victims of the Camp, Woolsey, Hill and other wildfires. It also funds scholarships to the children of firefighters who died in the line of duty and maintains a memorial to fallen firefighters in the state capitol.
The SAVE cards (Supplying Aid to Victims of Emergency) are given to firefighters so they can hand them directly to people who have been hit by fire. It’s meant to be enough to get a tank of gas, some groceries and whatever immediate needs they might have. The firefighters keep a list of the names and addresses of those who’ve gotten the cards, to ensure there’s no double dipping.
“When the Camp fire hit, and we realized that a town of 28,000 people had been essentially wiped out, we started mobilizing,” Rice said. The pre-loaded cards initially had $100 on them but when firefighters saw the magnitude of what had happened, especially in the town of Paradise, the amount was upped to $250.
He’s heard firefighters saying the fire that destroyed the town “was of biblical proportions” and he agrees.
“When I went up there, it looked like the Apocalypse. The only thing missing was zombies chasing us down the street,” Rice said.
Such unexpected windfalls aren’t unknown for charities in the aftermath of big disasters, said Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch, a philanthropy watchdog group.
“Things can happen backwards, where they raise the money first and then figure out what to do with it. Hopefully, the foundation comes back with a good plan about what to do with it,” he said.
Rice, a retired firefighter and president of the California Professional Firefighters, said it would be. “We have been given an enormous trust by the public and we are going to discharge it and be able to show that we are a rock-solid part of the rebuilding,” he said.
The need is only likely to grow. Research by the U.S. Forest Service and state universities has predicted that the state will experience more frequent and more severe fires as the climate changes and the state becomes warmer and dryer.