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Aug. 21--HAT CREEK, California -- The volunteer fire station in Hat Creek was full of smiles, laughs and even some tears Wednesday night.
About 75 people gathered there to hear updates on the Eiler Fire and also information on the next steps to rebuild, clear debris or salvage timber. The once fast-moving wildfire was reported 97 percent contained Wednesday evening.
Officials with the Lassen National Forest walked through the initial response to the wildfire, which sent up a plume of smoke from the Thousand Lakes Wilderness Area southwest of Hat Creek on July 31 before growing that week to consume more than 32,000 acres, seven homes and the revered Fireside Village, a longtime Hat Creek restaurant and grocery store.
Lassen Forest Supervisor David Hays said firefighters responded with a full suppression strategy as soon as the fire was reported, scrambling a team of smoke jumpers that were at the fire within about 80 minutes. A nearby fire crew also made the two-hour hike from the nearest trailhead, he said.
While some residents questioned if more could have been done in the early hours to stub out the fire before it gained strength and roared out of the wilderness and into the community of Hat Creek, Shasta County Supervisor Pam Giacomini encouraged folks to keep an eye to the future instead of fretting over the past.
"Let's not run down the path of beating folks up here, let's move forward," she said to the crowd.
Full containment of the fire is expected later this week, said Shasta County California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Mike Hebrard, but for many in the community work is just starting. Some lost homes, while other are left to deal with acres of downed trees and clean up debris.
Shasta County Building Director Dale Fletcher was on hand to offer guidance to people who lost homes or other structures, offering to help streamline the permitting process if they reached out to him directly.
He said low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration may be available for those who are burned out and did not have insurance. A local nonprofit, Burney Reunite, has set up an online fundraiser to benefit Eiler Fire victims and is planning to host a yard sale in Burney this weekend to that same end.
Donations can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/9l4nuo or by visiting a U.S. Bank branch and making a donation to the Burnery Reunite Eiler Fire Fund.
Foresters Pete Johnson and Jeff Webster encouraged folks not to waste time preparing a recovery plan and selling or disposing of large downed trees.
"If you wait until spring the wood is going to go bad on you, so get that done as fast as you can," Webster said.
Next comes replanting, and both said it was imperative to have seed purchases and orders to nurseries in by the end of the year in order to be ready to plant pine and fir sprouts in the spring of 2016. They take a full year to grow.
Many in the audience voiced their appreciation to the hundreds of firefighters that battled the blaze, and especially the crews that worked to help save homes and lives in Hat Creek when the fire came roaring down Brown's Butte the evening of Aug. 1.
Paul Sallaberry of Hat Creek said his property took a direct hit from the flames.
The room echoed in applause when fire officials asked volunteer firefighters in the room to raise their hands, offering thanks for their hard work.
Giacomini, host of the meeting, said such a tragedy was tough, but the community was resilient and had really pulled together to help each other out.
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