“Well, at least all the ivy is gone,” Eileena said, staring at the bare ground that the fire left behind. The fire took down that house and left nothing. My friend and flooring contractor Dillon Moore used to live here. Now, there is nothing but a pile of ashes and memories. I am sure his sister-in-law Eileena was just trying to make a joke because the other option would be to cry. The only thing still standing was the fireplace and the foundation concrete wall.
When we arrived at where Dillon used to live, he rushed toward a small concrete patch on the ground, with his bare hands clearing the ashes that piled on top. After a few minutes of pouring water and cleaning the concrete with a rag, he exposed his kids’ handprints. He just looked at it without saying a thing. We all just stood there in the middle of it all – bare land covered with ashes where families used to live. Dillon was lucky enough to have moved out of Paradise, California a year before the big fire hit the area – The Camp Fire. Eileena lost her home and now lives on Dillon’s property.
What does a California fire have to do with us at the NWFA and Hardwood Floors magazine? Well, a lot. Dillon is a friend and a flooring contractor. He had taken part in many of our association’s events. I think of him as my old school cowboy friend; old school manners, old school classy. When the fire hit his area up in Northern California last year, it hit hard, wiping out a couple of towns and covering the entire state with smoke for weeks and weeks after. At the time, I was teaching a flooring school in St. Louis, Missouri, with my friend Lenny Hall. Among us was also a dear friend (I do have a lot of flooring friends) Marcos Proti out of L.A. While Marcos was on a plane to the school, two of his jobsites were evacuated, and his tools had to be left behind. We talked in length about the impact on his life, his business, and the residents.
When the fire was finally controlled, 14,343 homes were destroyed, and all of Paradise residents (to this date) live in motels and hotels nearby or have moved to another town. Most lost their jobs because all the workplaces were burnt down. Eighty-six died, and two are still unaccounted for. The fire destroyed 153,336 acres. Dillon opened his property to a few people to live on and hired a few more to provide a steady income. He asked the NWFA if it could help with the training portion. Sure enough, a few months later – the NWFA hosted training in Chico.
I drove up to Chico for three days, leaving my guys behind to finish up a red oak strip install. As I approached the area, I noticed that the temperature outside was rapidly rising. It was around 100 degrees when I arrived. The training took place inside a small classroom at a local floor store. I walked inside to meet with Dillon, Kjell Nymark, and Roger Barker, who were also leading the training, and a small group of people waiting to learn about floors. All of them had to relocate, and aside from one young man who was renting, they all lost their homes. I later learned that they were sitting in traffic with their kids trying to escape the fire, while the flames were catching up to them from all around. The roads were so hot that some tires blew up. That morning, nobody talked about the fire, or what they lost. They just sat there, introducing themselves to the instructors: cut and dry, just like any other school.
As I have learned over the years, every training starts and ends differently. It is hard to make everyone comfortable from Day One, but with some help, we the instructors managed to create a welcoming, friendly environment filled with our stupid private jokes (every school has its own) to make the time more fun.
This training was different in the sense that it was not a specific level school. We had people from a beginner level to more advanced craftsman. We had to teach all levels during those three days, so we had to make sure every person got what they needed. From moisture issues to trammel points, layout, and herringbone, (it was a good thing Kjell and I came from the same metric world).
After a couple of days of intense training, we all got to know each other better, and so everyone was a lot more comfortable around the classroom. It was the last day, and I will never forget that morning; everyone had already installed floors, the power tools were not so intimidating anymore, and they were all more relaxed. As we sat down, I asked the students if they were willing to drive us up to Paradise so that we could see what happened. I was not sure how it was going to go, and Dillon did warn me that the pain and trauma were still deeply infused in their minds. As I was asking, I bothered to mention this was not part of the training, and we could all skip that part.
It got VERY quiet in the classroom – very quiet. One person asked what exactly we wanted to see as if she were surprised anyone cared anymore. It seems these days after the initial news report about any tragedy, everyone goes back to their business and those of us who are not lucky – remain alone to face a new kind of life. I told her that it was important for me to record the damage and the human aspect of it. I wanted my friends to see this and to be reminded. I told her knowing the NWFA community, there would be a lot of people who would have wanted to help. They just never had the opportunity. The heaviness in the classroom sunk in as we all agreed to get in the vehicles and drive up to Paradise. Watching us from a distance, you would have thought someone put weights in everyone’s shoes. We were all quiet, a little nervous, and moved slowly and quietly. Kjell and I got in my truck with a few students, while Dillon was in his truck leading the way. It was a very quiet ride from the floor store to the town of Paradise. We all knew we were driving up to see something horrible.
As we drove up, we noticed dump trucks going in and out endlessly, removing debris. All around us was nothing. Just nothing. There were no homes left, only a small pile of ashes and a fireplace standing. Only charred trees and dirt all around. It was like driving through the end of the world kind of movie, except I was with friends, with people I knew and it was real. We made a quick stop and gathered around. I think Kjell and I choked the second we saw Paradise, and honestly, I think everyone was one step away from tearing up again. Some opened up a little and shared their last morning of going to work that day; as they got a call 10 minutes after they left their kids at school to come to pick them up. As they rushed into the school and the flames were coming up the hill, as school teachers were asking parents who showed up, “Do you know the other kids? Then take them! Do you know these kids? Please take them too!”.
Aaron, one of our students, said he was in the car with his wife, jammed in traffic. The flames were chasing them. His wife started screaming, “we have to get out and run; we have to run!!” He then just stared at the ground, lost in thoughts about that day. I just stood next to him. The panic of one family. The story of one man, woman, and their children. How fragile we are.
We all know of all the bad things in the world, right? We just can’t function if we think about them all the time. We also can’t help everyone, yet alone solve every problem. I do believe that we want to help. I do believe that we rise up when we give others and help them rise.
I wish Dillon, family and friends will see through this and rebuild sooner than later.