RECOVERY IS HAPPENING
We are already seeing signs of new growth in the forest and it is such a relief. To think how a few blades of grass along the creek amid the ash can give you a sense of renewal — it is such a wonder. The family of turkeys that live in the orchard just outside the Office reappeared this week. I counted up the chicks and they are all there!
Woolman is learning more about the scope of the work we have ahead of us. New drone photos loaded in the Gallery show the extent of the fire damage from the air. We’ve begun a salvage operation for scarred trees. It is a big challenge to control erosion and debris from clogging creeks and culverts. We have to get this job done before the rains which will come soon, we hope! There will be Volunteer Days to help with the forest restoration and trail work in the coming weeks. These will be posted in Events. Drop us a message here if you want to help.
Thanks to so many of you who sent photos of buildings that were lost. We’ve sent them to the insurance adjuster. The Woolman board is planning how we can rebuild the campus for programs that meet the current moment. This is the silver lining to this tragic event.
Many people have offered to help with site clean-up. Unfortunately, the authorities at the County Environmental Health Department are not having any of this. There is hazardous waste in the ash and it needs to be removed by toxic clean-up professionals.
We are having a Gathering to Grieve, on September 20, outdoors on the soccer field. Our local Nisenan tribe be there, and also the fire fighters and first responders. Because of Covid we are restricting the group size to 60. If you are interested in coming you must RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to get a number. If you can’t attend but want to participate you can send your blessings, prayers, wishes, or poems as Letters to the Land to email@example.com. She will collect them in a vessel to be buried at the spring, which is the site of an historic Nisenan village.
Sept. 12, 2020
CAMPUS IS CLOSED
We’ve had many requests from people who care deeply about SFC to come to the campus. Unfortunately, the campus is closed at the moment as we work to get the critical utility infrastructure up and running so tenants can come back with full services. Also, PG&E and CalFire crews are still in mop-up mode, removing many damaged trees that are endangering roads, powerlines, trails and other buildings. This is a big operation. There is debris on the land that could hurt people walking around near the burn area. Please don’t come just yet.
We are scheduling a “Gathering to Grieve” on the one-month anniversary of the fire. We are coordinating with the local Nisenan tribe to join us in a traditional cry and blessing. This will be open to all, with Covid safeguards in place. For those who can’t come to the site, we will make arrangements for you to send your blessings. Stay tuned for more info in the next week.
Aug. 30, 2020
FROM THE ASHES — A NEW BEGINNNING
Someone asked me today what my first impression was when I arrived at SFC last Friday morning, with a police escort. I reflected that I only saw the “macro” view — not the details. My eyes scanned the campus horizon in all directions looking for something familiar that I could hold on to, to anchor me. Today, a group of Friends and I walked the campus again, taking photos of smaller things. I saw an antique Singer Sewing Machine (the pedal kind), a gumball machine, old bedsprings, chicken feeders, rock outcroppings that had been covered in brush, stonework that held up bridges and culverts, wood burning stoves. That old Storage Barn has a lot of stories to tell!
Ten days later, we are on the ground, assessing what we lost and what we have. The fire has truly changed everything for Woolman. While we grieve for the land, for the losses that our tenants have endured, and for our buildings, we also see opportunity. We announced in July that we needed to sell the land to repay debt and perform $1m in facilities upgrades. Covid shut down most sources of income such as summer camp, and pushed us to the brink. Now with the Jones Fire, we are fortunate to have a good insurance policy that will cover of the cost of rebuilding. We have a chance to rethink the campus and how it can purposely serve mission-driven programs. It is very possible that we can refinance debt and maintain ownership of the land with a new campus.
In the coming weeks we will move from recovery to rebuilding. While insurance will help replace physical losses, it only goes so far. Without program fees we will struggle to pay staff and operating costs (like insurance premiums!) as we rebuild. We’ve launched an appeal for donations to carry Woolman through to a new beginning. We hope to rally support from alumni, camper families, and Quaker community throughout the process — as volunteers and as donors.
Thank you for holding us in the light. It is working.
Aug. 27, 3:30pm
There has been a tsunami of support from people all over the planet whose lives were touched by Woolman. We are bathed in love — like warm sunlight streaming through a blue sky of fresh mountain air. We are so grateful.
Chris and I went to the Incident Command briefing on Friday morning to find the crew in charge of mop-up at SFC. We walked through a sea of orange jumpsuits with “PRISONER” printed their backs — mostly worn by people of color holding axes and shovels. They looked bedraggled but ready. I smiled and mouthed “thank you,” but they were not allowed to engage with me. We talked to the captain in charge of Woolman operations, Jack Kane, a tall, broad-shouldered man in his well-pressed navy blue CalFire uniform. He told us of the heroic efforts of fire fighters keeping flames off our buildings while allowing the fire to burn through the campus from one end to the other. He personally held the hose that protected A-Frame# 12 and Chris’ Redwood House. We fought the urge to embrace him in tears (Covid concerns) as he described the scope of their efforts almost nonchalantly. He arranged for an escort and we finally got on campus to tour the damage. Photos are posted in the GALLERY.
The fire entered SFC at the north end, by the oxidation ponds and Firewood Barn. It was about 300 yards wide and moved south across the west side of the campus burning everything from the soccer field to Dorothy and Doug’s house on Woolman Lane (D&D’s home was fully defended and is untouched by the fire). It was turned away from the main buildings and the east side by the green, grassy interior campus and soccer field. The orchard was also untouched.
The photos are difficult to show what was lost because, the buildings are gone — nothing but mounds of ash. There are no landmarks to orient yourself. The burnt structures include:
- Madrone Hall (old dormitory that was remodeled as an environmental science center)
- Firewood barn
- Tree Frog trailer
- 6 of 8 cabins
- West side bath house and showers
- Cedar House (residence)
- All the garden buildings
- Animal barn
- Storage barn
Our well and a main sewer line collapsed. We don’t have potable water or a waste water system as the moment. This is the focus of our emergency recover plan now.
At Mel’s Pond the forest is burned about 150 yards on either side. You can see clear through to the main campus now. My estimate is that about 150 acres of forest burned. All the understory burned which is healthy for the forest — blackberry, buckbrush, toyon, scotch broom, small trees. I saw the tallest trees were scarred but the tops were green, and will be healthier as a result. We shall comprehend how the forest will regenerate when we consult with a forester.
We are lucky that the main buildings were untouched: Dining Hall, Meetinghouse, Office, Ranch House, Stone House, Fern House, Ceramic Studio and Kiln, all 12 A-Frames, Redwood House, Arbor House and the 3 homes in upper campus: A-Frame in the Pines, Hedrick House and Cypress House, plus the maintenance shop and Quonset hut — all saved.
We are focused this week on recovery of basic services and getting people back into their homes: 15 residents were evacuated. We will continue to connect with our community and keep you informed about next steps.
We ask for your support — financially or as volunteers, to rebuild Woolman! We see a future full of opportunities, with your help. Please go to the DONATE page if you can help us financially. If you want to volunteer, go to the CONTACTS page and send a message.
Please stay safe. We are not out of this fire season yet.
August 23, 11 am
WE ARE RESILIENCE!
We are hoping to hear shortly that we can get back on campus. Chris Benfield (our caretaker) was able to get in with an escort this morning. He has confirmed that our losses include one residence, Madrone Hall, all but two west-side cabins, all barns and garden sheds. A lot of the underbrush and blackberry burned up — which is good. The remaining campus is in relatively good condition mainly due to the heroic efforts of the fire crews who were protecting Woolman as the firestorm blew through. The fire burned up to the edge of the buildings in most cases, and without their intervention we would have lost so much more.
I also want to acknowledge Chris and Cletus Hainsley (groundskeeper) for excellently managing the property for fire safety. Their hard work — year around, to maintain the campus to meet all defensive fire standards also made all the difference. THANK YOU!
Our hearts are breaking for our two tenants who lost everything. In the residence lived a family of three. Madrone Hall was the home of Sierra Streams Institute. We will do everything we can to help them sort things out as they recover from this devastating loss.
We will keep posting updates as we learn more. Our gratitude to the many people who have sent condolences and love. We exist because of you.
Marty — Aug. 20, Noon
WE ARE WOOLMAN STRONG!
I was contacted by a TV news crew who gained access to the campus to film. They showed me the video and it is clear we lost the Cedar House, Farm buildings (not the barn), Madrone Hall, West Site Bath House and a few Cabins, Tree Frog (uninhabited trailer). I was told the main SFC buildings were unharmed. I know the Ranch House and Animal Barn is standing. The fire seems to have blown a path through campus from the Wood Shed area across the Garden. I am hopeful the big green meadow stopped or slowed it.
Marty — Aug. 19, 2 pm
WE WILL REBUILD…BETTER!
Sierra Friends Center has suffered great loss. We are still trying to determine the depth. Land heals. We will heal. We will draw upon the strength of the Woolman community…you will not let us go away!
Marty — Aug. 18, 7:41 pm
PRAY FOR WOOLMAN
Sadly, the Jones Fire has impacted Woolman. The fire is still a developing situation. We see maps that show utter devastation. The maps are not precise enough yet to draw conclusions. What we know so far is that the firestorm blew through campus while strike teams and two water tankers worked to save buildings. We have a team on the ground from our insurance company assessing the situation. I am awaiting their report. I will post updates here.
Marty Coleman-Hunt — Aug. 18, 2:30 pm