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Surviving the 2017 NorCal Wildfires – Will’s Story

In light of the terrible fires in California, we thought that we would re-share a story of hope and recovery from the 2017 Northern California fires.

In early October 2017, wildfires raged through Northern California near Santa Rosa. A total of 160,000 acres burned, including 27 wineries; over 8,000 structures were lost; and 42 people perished in one of California’s worst natural disasters in a century. This is the story of one bartender caught in the inferno.

Early Sunday morning October 9th, Will got off work and drove home as usual. He noticed an ominous orange glow to the North and thought it was a little out of place. It was in the direction of his home and he hurried to investigate. As he turned the corner at the top of the hill he saw the entire horizon on fire. Nearly knocked off his feet by the 80 mph winds pushing the inferno into the neighborhood, he laid on his horn as he drove back down the hill, hoping to wake residents and warn them of the approaching danger. Emergency vehicles were nowhere to be found. While racing back to his home, he could feel the concussion waves of exploding transformers and propane tanks destroyed in the fire that now surrounded the entire neighborhood.

Will called the police to report where he had seen the fire cresting the hill and by the time he got near his home the raging wildfire had consumed a department store four blocks away, jumped a 6-lane freeway, and was racing towards his neighborhood of Coffey Park. Slowed down by near zero visibility, and other cars packed onto the road, he turned on his street and found his home. With the fire now just three blocks away, he rushed in and woke his still sleeping roommates. They had just enough time to grab what they could (a purse, a laptop, a firearm) and get to the cars and join the traffic racing out of the neighborhood. Within 30 min everything in their neighborhood was ash and Will’s home was destroyed.

After weeks of uncertainty, not knowing if the fires were ever going to be contained, hosing down his mother’s roof to keep embers at bay, not knowing if his father’s home was still standing, Will applied for a Bartender Emergency Assistance Program (BEAP) grant through the USBG National Charity Foundation. He was qualified and in need of emergency support and the Foundation, after review, quickly granted him recovery funds.

Today, Will is continuing to recover from the events of that horrific night. Sitting in a barbershop chair six months after the fire, the first time he’d had a haircut since that night, Will finally said to himself “You’re going to be be alright.” Knowing the BEAP grant was there to support him, he went out and bought a new wardrobe and recreated his bar kit. Will is now back at work and is grateful for the small sense of safety the BEAP grant afforded him, stating “I can't say enough how the support helped me mentally. I'm usually a self-sufficient guy who doesn't ask for help. Knowing there's an organization out there that has your back during the really bad stuff is amazing.”

It will take time for fire victims like Will to recover fully and to feel safe again, and it will take time for the surrounding area to recover. But with the support of surrounding communities and our own USBG Community, both the people and the area as a whole will recover and thrive.

To donate to help more bartenders like Will in 2019, please visit our fundraising page and help us reach our goal!

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