The CZU Lightning Complex Fire began late at night on Aug. 16 near Boulder Creek, a quiet little town deep in the redwood forest about 20 miles northeast of Santa Cruz, Calif. By the time it was contained Sept. 22, it had burned 85,509 acres across two counties, destroyed 1,500 structures and damaged 140 more. Tragically, one person was killed.
The fire also knocked out the water system that serves more than 10,000 people who live in the San Lorenzo Valley Water District. Stepping in to help to fill that critical need were two companies with limited connection to Boulder Creek, but plenty of heart to be of service.
Golden State Fire Apparatus, based in Sacramento, and W.S. Darley & Co., headquartered in the Chicago suburbs, teamed up to deliver a truckload of desperately needed water Monday morning to the water district. Golden State sells fire and emergency apparatus. Darley makes water pumps, many of which are found on fire apparatus.
Together, Golden State and Darley paid for and arranged a semi-truck loaded with 24 pallets of water – more than 5,000 gallons—to be driven from Dallas to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District office.
“The timing was perfect as the water district was almost out of water when the truck arrived,” said Ryan Wright, President of Golden State Fire.
The donation came about after Wright corresponded with a California Office of Emergency Services representative about how Golden State might help fire victims in hard-hit communities. He was told that the people in and around Boulder Creek needed drinking water. That sparked a conversation Sept. 22 with Paul Darley, President & CEO of W.S. Darley & Co. By Sept. 25, the truck was on its way from Texas.
“People are in need of water and we are fortunate to be in a position to help in any way possible to provide this vital resource,” Darley explained.
Holly Hossack, administrative assistant at the water district, said the district lost three water tanks and all of the pipelines leading to and from the water treatment plant. While some water service has been restored, people living in more than 350 homes are on “do not drink, do not boil” orders due to the risk of volatile organic compounds caused by the fire possibly being in the water. That order is expected to last another three weeks, she said.
The district goes through five or more pallets of water per day, Hossack said, with each household allowed two cases of water per day. Before the truck arrived Monday, “We were down to a couple of pallets,” she said.
Tanya Wright, Ryan’s wife and a Golden State employee, was in Boulder Creek with her 17-year-old daughter and a family friend on Monday when the truck arrived and parked in the middle of two-lane Highway 9, right in front of the water district office. Within an hour, the pallets had been offloaded and distribution begun to people patiently waiting in their cars to pick up water.
“People looked tired and worn out, but they were joyful despite what they have faced,” said Wright, who described driving through burned out areas nearby as “heartbreaking.”
“We saw four or five houses that had burned to the ground,” she said. “All that was left were ashes and hot water heaters. And then 100 yards away, there was a house that didn’t get touched. It was really tragic and humbling. It made you really see what these people are going through.”
Unfortunately, with more than 100 wildfires burning all over the Western United States in the past month, the scene near Boulder Creek has been far too common. The need for water and other supplies is acute in many states.
Golden State – carrying on the tradition established by its founders, Bill and Marie Wright – has donated before through the Red Cross and other relief agencies.
Kevin Sofen, Darley’s Business Development Manager, said the Illinois company is eager to work with other organizations that would like to arrange a water donation. Darley has an interest in a business called Box of Rain Water, which provides drinking water after emergencies and also to the military. The water – like what was delivered to Boulder Creek—comes in 2.64-gallon (10-liter) units. Think of boxed wine, just with water inside.
“A lot of people are experiencing hardship,” Sofen said. “We want to make water accessible to them by partnering with companies like Golden State to do something. It’s the right thing to do. We’re looking for any company that’s willing to help.”
Sofen said interested companies should contact him at (310) 625-6248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.