Daily stories of heartbreak and loss are the hardest part of the volunteer humanitarian work a Penticton couple is doing in the fire-ravaged region near Chico, Calif.
“I just talked to a friend, it took him three days to get out of the fire in his Volvo, it got melted, rolled and he was rescued by the police, and I when I got here today (Friday) and asked him how he was, he was in a pile of tears, he said; ‘I just found out I lost these friends,’” said Paul Klyne who is there with wife Destee, helping serve meals and whatever else they can do. “I just gave him a hug and said; ‘lets cry together.’”
There was another man Klyne helped Thursday who just barely escaped from the same region on his motorbike, with just the singed clothes on his back.
“He has no money, nothing, so we got him some clothes from the free store, I asked him ‘are you missing people? Let’s look on the (missing persons) list, let’s get you off of that list,’ that’s the kind of things we’re doing at ground level,” said Klyne. “It’s just one-on-one helping people, giving them emotional support, feeding them and just giving in their time of need.
“They’re fresh off the hill out of the fire and they’re a mess, you just have to console them.”
The trip for the Klynes was supposed to be some down time with friends in Paradise, a town which has been completely destroyed.
Initially with the spread of the fire they had thought about just donating some money and going to Cancun.
“But we said that’s not enough to just to donate some bucks, we need to get there and support that community,” said Klyne. “I’m so glad we did, here we are in perilous times helping people move forward.”
After getting to the camp at the Wal-Mart Parking lot they hooked up with Alex, a food truck operator from Sacramento who also came to help.
They brought with them and are still buying gift cards from Wal-Mart to give to evacuees, even their young son Jett, who is at home in Penticton with grandma, donated the money from his piggy bank.
There have been other problems as well reports the camp will be moved, looting and even the threat of the spread of norovirus.
“It’s just adding insult to injury with this virus ripping through the other camps and they’re afraid of it cross contaminating the food service here, but I guess that’s just a slice of life,” he said.
They had another scare Thursday when Destee had to be taken to the emergency ward for treatment of a food-related allergy.
“It just about killed her and I don’t say that lightly, but she’s back at it today (Friday)” said Klyne.
The couple are still accepting donations until 3 p.m. Saturday, the day before they leave.
“People can send by email and we will donate the funds on their behalf with love,” said Klyne.
The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Describing the Wal-Mart Parking lot where they are helping hundreds of fire evacuees in North California as a “refugee camp” a Penticton couple vows to continue doing what they can to assist.
Paul and Destee Klyne had booked holiday time to spend with friends in Paradise long before the deadly wildfire hit the region however instead of cancelling or returning home, they turned their trip into a humanitarian effort.
Through video they’ve been sharing their story and asking for people to donate money so far raising over $1,400 to buy gift cards for the displaced fire victims, many who have little more than the clothes on their backs.
An “unofficial camp” people there have set up tents and others are living in their vehicles and there are reports the site by Sunday.
The Klynes are also working 12-hour days to help feed the masses. They have also extended their trip until Sunday.
By late Friday morning the death toll had reportedly risen to 66 with more than 600 people still unaccounted for.
The Camp Fire, one of two burning in the state, has burned over 142,000 acres, is 45 per cent contained and 63 of the deaths have been confirmed in that region in the deadliest wildfire in a century.
The number of structures destroyed, including homes, is nearly 12,000.