The Oak Knoll Fire completely destroyed 11 homes without warning a few weeks ago. The fire jumped from house to house and several of the people were evacuated out the front of the house while the back of the house was still burning. In those 11 homes, most of the possession were left behind and destroyed.
In 2007 and 2008, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to New Orleans to perform hurricane relief work there. Our class (yes, it was an academic class requiring reading, writing, and creating multimedia projects) focused on having dialogue with the people we worked with. Many times during the day we would stop work just to listen to what the New Orleanians had seen and felt and what they thought about it all. What surprised me was how positive and how strong they were despite all that that they had gone through. Their homes had been flooded and sat underwater for weeks while they received little help. Their neighbors went to the Superdome and saw people die. Some lost just about everything they had in their homes and didn't have a clear idea on what their next step would be. It floored me how positive and welcoming they felt about the help they received and the loss of their possessions.
In January 2006, about four months after the storm, Rosie Boitmann talked with some of our Saint Mary's people about her experience with Katrina.
When I was at the scene of the Oak Knoll Fire, I couldn't help drawing parallels between what was left after that fire and what was left in New Orleans after the storm. Some homes were completely destroyed, some were mostly destroyed. Some homes had possessions still inside, burned or covered in collapsed walls or roofs. It looked like a warzone.
I interviewed one woman, Danna Gustafson, the day after the fire and her positive outlook was incredibly similar to the people we met in New Orleans.
On Wednesday, Sept. I covered a fundraiser held for those affected by the Oak Knoll Fire. I was blown away by how the community rallied behind those residents. Businesses donated items, people opened their wallets, and, maybe most importantly, people were there to listen and offer emotional support.
I spoke with a homeowner who lost her home in the fire in that piece and she said some beautiful things about her experience. Here is a log of some of most insightful and inspiring things she said during our conversation:
"It's just really wonderful to be here with the community members and see them coming around and rallying around all the families. It's just been wonderful"
"It's not fun to have your whole house and all your belongings go away and it just seems to be a kind of innate compasion in people that...it's just wonderful."
"Its just wonderful to see a community binding together, not just a neighborhood and not just your family and friends and personal support group, but a the community at large, so it's been an honor."
"I think we take courage from one another and it makes us hopeful."
"I know there's been a lot of conversation about the victims of the Oak Knoll Fire, but I don't want to be a victim. I don't feel like I was victimized."
"People are...they rise to the occassion, they come along and support you...maybe you don't realize that people care as much as they do."