Sunday, October 4, 2015


I received the following letter on Facebook from Mona Baroody relating to my visit to the Mountain Ranch Recovery Center:
Dear Mary Matzek,
Thank you for your blog post in the SF Gate. As a resident of Calaveras County, Butte Fire evacuee (who is lucky enough to be unharmed), community advocate, and staunch corrector of misinformation, I need to provide you with some information.
First, FEMA and Red Cross DID NOT set up the Mountain Ranch Relief Center. The Relief Center was established by a grass roots effort of the community itself, in the midst of losing everything, THEY began to rescue themselves.
Second, many HAVE NOT found shelter, and FEMA HAS NOT provided any temporary shelter. In order to go back to their property, the burned out residents must first obtain clearance from the state that hazardous waste has been removed; to get that ball rolling requires a right of entry form filed with the county Environmental Health, then a wait for inspection, then a wait for help form contractors with proper licensure to actually do the clean up, then a wait for another inspection to provide clearance.
FEMA has been taking registration, and word has it that trailers for fire victims are arriving in Sacramento, but they are for all California Fires, not just Butte Fire or just Valley Fire. And again, until the property is cleared for habitation, they will not place residences.
I find it important to provide these facts because if people believe we are okay they will not help us keep pressure on the bureaucracy that slows our recovery.

Then, I received this letter from Jon Myatt on that same subject:

Hey Mary. As a resident of Amador County and a former emergency management PIO, let me apologize for the rough treatment you received from readers in response to your article. I have followed social media strings and read letters to the editors of both county newspapers and have to shake my head at some of the immature and uninformed responses to the actions of state and local emergency services agencies and the news reporters covering the incident. I have been a part of hundreds of disasters in my 40 plus years in the field and never have I seen so much uninformed criticism from victims and observers. That there is an underlying distrust and dislike of state and federal government in these counties is undeniable. The over reaction to your statement about FEMA and the Red Cross establishing recovery centers is an example. You were correct in that they DID set up centers there. However those that responded to you were hung up on the chronology of events and with who gets credit for responding immediately, which was not anything you were intending to document. It doesn’t matter who got there first except to people for who this is their first major disaster and feel the need to be recognized for it. So don’t take it personally. Many people here understand how this incident went down and how the state and its many partners responded to it. I enjoyed your article. And thank you for your support.
I thank you both for your letters. I was wrong when I said that people have fema trailers, they do not at this point. I met with a burned out friend on the day I took my stuff to the Recovery Center. She and her husband had been that morning to her property with a Fema rep to verify their burned place. Then they had paperwork to fill out and they were told the extent of Fema’s settlement for them.  In the news, it stipulates that Fema, with the victims permission, will, without cost, clean up the mess for any victim.  I’m guessing that means removing solid debris with a buldozer and hauling it away. 
Another friend gave a Fema rep at the center names of people to contact who she knew needed help with grants.  At the Recovery Center Office, I saw a group of people on the outside of  the park chain link fence. I asked about it and was told by the Office Manager at the Red Cross? or Fema Office? that they were a local volunteer group that had begun their own  recovery action.  So, pardon my confusion. I didn’t pointedly ask at the office, are you a Fema person? Or are you a Red Cross person?  All I knew is that people were rushing all over the place, working hard and directing traffic and directing me where to deposit my goods. And, Fema and the Red Cross were very much on task, feeding people and trying to keep things organized.  I expect the group I asked about was who Baroody mentioned,  set up to help themselves and each other. Isn’t that the way communities do it? They help each other. But without Fema and Red Cross, the effort would not have been as far reaching and thorough.
While there, I heard complaints about too many chiefs and not enough Indians. There is bureaucracy, and maybe even a waste of manpower in the way they work. But without them, the recovery effort would be stunted and much less powerful.
It seems to me, that in a disaster there are many heroes and we should concentrate on the positives and give feedback about the negatives to the agency involved to leverage change. I’m still trying to put my own house in order and I wish I could do more. Thank you both for your perspectives on fire recovery.

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