Burning Man camp sends its shelters to wildfire victims

Burning Man camp sends its shelters to wildfire victims

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Residents of Santa Rosa, California were allowed to return Friday to areas ravaged by recent wildfires. Officials say more than eight thousand structures were destroyed by flames that tore through the region in Northern California. (Oct. 20) AP

SPARKS, Nev. — Just two months ago, a stack of shipping containers was arranged in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for one of the most celebratory, free-spirited art gatherings on earth. 

Now, those same shipping containers are being dusted off and sent to California for a much more sobering purpose. 

One of the Burning Man camps, Camp Epic, is lending seven shipping containers to families left homeless in California’s deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in state history. The containers will house about 75 people, mostly teachers or families of children who attended Santa Rosa’s Anova Center for Education, a school that serves 135 students on the autism spectrum.

“We’re trying to establish a village,” said Jen Martini of Sonoma, Calif., who is a member of Camp Epic and is organizing much of the effort.

► Oct. 22: Record heat, fierce Santa Ana winds to fuel wildfire threat in California
► Oct. 20: Losses from California wildfires top $1B — and is ‘just the beginning’
► Oct. 17: Family loses all to California fire: ‘We’re going to start again’

Outfitted for Burning Man’s inhospitable environment, the containers all come with air conditioning, kitchenettes, shelving and bunk beds. They are 40 to 50 feet long and painted on the outside in colorful, abstract designs.

Several of them are divided into three bedrooms. One is a single bedroom, dorm-style container and another is a kitchen unit with a commercial-size refrigerator and freezer. 

The temporary town, already named Oasis Village, will be placed on a plot of land in the Santa Rosa area. Martini has been coordinating with the nonprofit Burners Without Borders to ship the containers for half price, $12,000, and gather much-needed donations for the families, including new bedding, toiletries, clothing and items to make the boxes feel more cozy.

Burners Without Borders is also looking for volunteers to offer services such as kitchen staffing. 

“Unfortunately, when the time comes that we need to help our neighbor, we want to be there much like we are at Burning Man when someone’s camp flies away in a dust storm. We want to bring this ethos to our every day,” said Carmen Mauk, co-founder of Burners Without Borders and a volunteer on the project. 

The containers were en route to California this past weekend and will be set up for the teachers and students’ families as soon as Burners Without Borders is able to secure all of the appropriate permits and necessary insurance. The school also is hoping to open within the next few weeks when it, too, can find a temporary home. 

“Routine is everything for these kids. To have this happen — a lot of the families lost their homes — and they don’t have anywhere to take their kids,” said Brit Hanson, who has two daughters and a son. Her son attends Anova.

“You can’t just call a regular babysitter,” she said. “Some of these kids are aggressive. Some need more attention.”

► Oct. 16: Family dog found alive amid rubble after wildfire destroyed home
► Oct. 16: ‘Love’ sculpture from Burning Man becomes symbol of hope

Hanson, who is friends with Martini but never has been to Burning Man, reached out to the camp after a social media post earlier this week. After losing her home the first night of the fires, she hoped to stay in one of the containers, but she’s now working to connect families and teachers with the organizers.

“At the time I thought I would need it, but there are some families that may need it more,” Hanson said.

Hanson, who has stayed in three hotels and now is staying at a friend’s vacation home outside of town, said the market for rentals is dire. She applied for every home she found on Craigslist two days after the fire, offering a full year’s rent upfront at $1,000 above the monthly asking price.

She has yet to receive one call back. Every house had about 150 applications in line already, she was told. 

While Hanson’s family and friends have suggested that she leave the area, she feels like all that she has left is her family and the community built around her son’s school. 

“We lost our home videos when our kids were little, all of my grandparents’ and father’s heirlooms. My father wrote my daughter a letter before he died, I kept that in my nightstand drawer. I had (my father’s) last stick of deodorant. A cigar box that my father gave my husband,” Hanson said tearfully. 

Hanson and her husband, who are both destination wedding photographers and celebrated 15 years of marriage last week, also collected Christmas ornaments from every place they visited. All of them are gone. 

Still, everyone is moving forward, doing what they have to. Martini, the lead organizer, said everyone is weary and just now dealing with the emotions, but everyone is trying to stay positive. 

“The one beautiful thing that’s been going around, we’ve seen these signs that say, ‘The love in the air is thicker than smoke,’ ” she said. 

Follow Jenny Kane on Twitter: @Jenny_Kane

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How to help

• Money is needed to cover costs for seven refurbished shipping containers to be transported round trip from Sparks, Nev., to Santa Rosa, Calif., and buy supplies for the communal kitchen container.

• Tents, trailers and recreational vehicles also are needed to house additional people.

• Volunteers are needed to help set up Oasis Village and will be need long term for cooking, gathering supplies and other tasks.

• Contact Burners Without Borders through its website.

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