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Weed evacuees return to their homes

Weed, Calif., residents evacuated when the Boles fire swept through their community Monday were allowed to return home Friday morning to see for themselves the extent of the damage done to their properties.

As of Friday afternoon, the 479-acre fire was 90 percent contained, with nearly 1,100 firefighters still at the scene to address safety concerns and extinguish hot spots in the area, said Josh Janssen, a fire captain with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Janssen did not expect the fire to be fully contained Friday.

“The big push today is re-populization,” he said. “We let the residents in today starting at 10 a.m. We are escorting them to their homes to find out whether it is still standing, damaged or destroyed. If it is damaged or destroyed, then we are assisting them with sifting through the debris and pulling out anything of value.”

More than a dozen agencies are on hand to provide the residents with contacts to assist in “moving forward and rebuilding,” Janssen said.

The fire destroyed more than 110 structures and damaged more than 90 others. More than 1,500 people were forced to evacuate the area Monday and, upon return Friday, hundreds learned they were homeless.

Since Monday, the town of 3,000 has been flooded with donations and support from across the country, including the Rogue Valley.

By Friday afternoon, Alonzo Greene, one of the organizers of a community donation center formerly in Bel Air Park and now at 550 Park St. in downtown Weed, and a team of more than 100 volunteers had unloaded six trucks full of donations.

“These aren't small U-Haul trucks,” Greene said. “These are 53-foot flatbed trailers full of food and clothes.”

Greene, an assistant pastor at the Mt. Shasta Baptist Church in Weed, said he knew of at least three other trucks headed to Weed with donations and expected to arrive late Friday.

Local donation sites in and around Weed announced Friday that they would not be accepting any more clothing donations.

“People are coming from so far with things, and it’s hard to say, ‘Hey, we can’t take these things,’ ” Greene said. “The outpouring is great, but what we would really like is for people to give us about a week to digest what we have because it’ll take a while for us to recover.”

Instead, Greene and Juanita Williams, Salvation Army’s field representative for Northern California, are asking people to donate gift cards and/or money.

Monetary donations can be made online at www.weed.recover.org, where people can choose to donate to a community fund or to a number of relief organizations in the area, including United Way of Northern California, Siskiyou Food Assistance, Shasta Regional Community Foundation, Great Northern Services and Free the Need.

On Wednesday, United Way of Jackson County started a fund at US Bank to help victims of the fire rebuild and, as of Friday, had raised more than $40,000.

“This is money for once the disaster preparedness agencies are done and people start to build and restore,” said Dee Anne Everson, United Way executive director.

Other local agencies have collaborated on donation drives for victims of the Boles fire.

Several radio stations orchestrated the Feed Weed event held Thursday at Sherm's Food 4 Less and, by 2:30 p.m., local residents and businesses had filled a truck with about 20,000 pounds of non-perishable food and bottled water. A second truck was filled by 6 p.m. Thursday, and a third truck, already half full, will head south Monday.

Jared Mulhollen, assistant manager at Food 4 Less, said West Coast Paper donated the trucks and the Grange Co-op showed up with five pallets of pet food. Food 4 Less has offered to fill the rest of the third truck.

Teresa McCants and her two kids ran a similar donation drive in Ashland and were also were overwhelmed by people’s generosity.

“We took three trailer loads of clothes down three days ago,” McCants said, adding that her husband will be heading to Weed at 5 p.m. today with another trailer load.

“We had someone donate 60 pairs of new shoes,” she added.

McCants said people still wanting to donate can drop off diapers, cleaning supplies, shovels, rakes, gloves and toiletries, except for toothbrushes, as well as nonperishable food items at Ashland Homes Real Estate or the Ashland airport.

However, McCants also is no longer accepting clothing.

McLoughlin Middle School is seeking business and private donations for Weed Elementary School, which was damaged in the fire. Email Principal Linda White at linda.white@medford.k12.or.us for details on how to donate.

Out of gratitude for these donations, teams of McLoughlin Middle School students will be cleaning up west Medford within a 10-block radius of their school from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt. 

Weed, Calif., residents evacuated when the Boles fire swept through their community Monday were allowed to return home Friday morning. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch