The Slater fire roared through Happy Camp, California on Sept. 8, and more than a month later, families still can’t get back into their neighborhoods.
U.S. Forest Service Officer Jason Rasmussen was working to evacuate families in his community, as his own home was engulfed in flames.
He said the fire was like nothing he’s seen in his quiet home town before.
“Sounded like some sort of freight train. It was just total chaos. People were scared,” recalled Rasmussen.
Winds fueled the flames, leveling 100,000 acres within hours. Two people were killed and nearly 200 homes were lost.
“I knew my home was probably going to burn,” said Rasmussen. “I could only hope that it would survive.”
Daybreak cemented gut-wrenching worry into reality. This fire left nothing behind for this family and so many others.
“It’s heartbreaking seeing my house and my friend’s houses burned to the ground,” said Rasmussen's son, Chaance, who is a firefighter. “The only thing that’s left is memories.”
Memories of a home, of a family legacy, built in this town for generations—now reduced to dust.
“It’s emotional. I don’t even like to go back there,” said Jason Rasmussen of returning to what was once his home. “The stuff that was special to me was not valuable even. It was stuff that my grandfather had given me. Things that were sentimental for that reason, because it was connected to my family history."
This loss is made even harder for the Rasmussens, because they never thought they’d be the ones needing help.
“While you’re talking to people you’re evacuating, you’re going through the same thing,” said Jason Rasmussen. “When I knew I was actually homeless, that was the worst feeling.”
After a month of moving from place to place, having nowhere to really call home, a surprise came that left these first responders speechless.
Volunteers from EmergencyRV.org drove this donated RV from Oregon to Northern California. A woman donated her RV to the organization, and EmergencyRV.org matches up families in need. First responders go to the top of the list.
Between being on the frontlines through the pandemic and this natural disaster, this group wanted to give these men a break.
“It doesn’t make sense that a firefighter loses his home and is sleeping in a tent or has nowhere to go, sleeping in the station,” said EmergencyRV.org founder Woody Faircloth. “We want to give them a place to call home until they get back on their feet.”
“I wasn’t expecting something like this,” said Chaance Rasmussen of the donated RV. “I thought, maybe something I could tow, but then I remembered I didn’t have a truck anymore, so it’s nice to have this.”
The RV is giving the young firefighter much more than a place to sleep.
“It kind of restores my faith in humanity,” said Chaance Rasmussen. “You see all the bad stuff on the media, people are rioting and all that stuff is happening, and knowing that people are out there doing stuff like this, it’s real heartwarming.”
To the volunteers, it’s a thank you for the danger these frontline workers face head-on every day.
“These firefighters and frontline heroes…they are heroes,” said Faircloth. “They’re out there every day doing this job, and they don’t make a lot of money, but they’re risking their lives for the rest of us.”
A risk this father and son are proud to take on, even as they take on the much tougher challenge of restoring this land into a place they can call home.