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September 25, 2021

Community tool library helps locals rebuild from CZU fires

Blueberry pie, enchiladas, a violin-guitar duo and plenty of chit-chat accompanied a Saturday event in Boulder Creek to launch an innovative solution for people trying to rebuild after last summer’s devastating wildfire.

Dawn Roh of the High Council Foundation beamed as she revealed what she’s been steadfastly working toward over the past four months and five days: a community shed where fire victims can borrow tools such as rototillers, rakes, chainsaws and log splitters.

“It’s a really special day,” Roh said at the ribbon cutting ceremony on the Bear Creek Recreation and Community Center property. “I just am so grateful you guys came out today.”

Two-to-three-dozen people listened as she described how reducing building costs will now be as easy as borrowing a book from the library for the 900-plus families who lost their residence in the CZU Lightning Complex fire. It was two days before the anniversary of when the flames were sparked.

A couple of dogs briefly interrupted the proceedings as they began roughhousing, to a gleeful peanut gallery comment of, “You gotta remember, we’re in Boulder Creek.”

Roh and her team have wrangled just over $100,000 in donations for the cause.

She likened the plight of the fire-affected to becoming demoralized when you get a flat tire on the side of the road.

“If just one person shows up, something shifts and you’re like—you can get through this,” she said. “We’ve got over 100 businesses ‘pulling off on the side of the road.’”

The body of the tool shed is made up of three shipping containers placed side-by-side, with a wooden exterior and a concrete pad that extends out front.

There’s a mural on the exposed side that highlights the smoky blue-to-lavender gradient of mountains below a yellow and orange-tinged sunset.

Isaac Hatch of Hatch’s Milling cut the 6-inch-by-6-inch posts for the front, said 66-year-old hazard-faller Bruce Baker, recalling how he walked for miles along remote terrain with Roh to select two giant trunk-remnant segments to memorialize the fire.

“I went out with Dawn and we did a tour of some of the burn areas,” he said. “We covered acres and acres.”

It was off of a county road in the Big Basin area along China Grade that Roh discovered what she was looking for.

“I’m humbled they came out of the woodwork and asked me,” said Baker, as he demonstrated where the core of the stump sections succumbed to rot after the fire. “These are the two that she chose.”

Zack Roh, 44, saw first-hand how hard his mother, Dawn, worked to make the tool shed a reality.

“She was determined to see this through,” he said, revealing she’d work 16-hour days to get ‘er done. “She’s stubborn as a mule.”

He could have painted the base coating on the shipping containers himself, but he saw an opportunity to engage a couple community members in creating the new local resource.

He reached out to Sean and Tony Machado of Machado Bros. Painting Inc. to see if they wanted to pitch in.

“Sean and Tony are San Lorenzo Valley residents,” he said. “They ended up doing more work than I did because they’re closer.”

For the first three months, the tool shed will be for the exclusive use of the fire-affected. Afterwards, the entire community will have access.

One of the shipping containers is filled with used tools fire survivors are allowed to take.

Jon Payne, 42, tapped into a bit of nostalgia as he selected an old school-style wooden tool box and a rusty-but-trusty tire iron to keep in his truck.

“I’m stoked on it,” he said, then looking outside, added, “I can’t wait to rent one of these log-splitters.”

Payne’s plan is to rebuild his Big Basin-area home, but his household hasn’t been able to get all the official clearances lined up quite yet.

For them, it’s an environmental health roadblock they’ll have to overcome.

But once they clear that hurdle, it will be important to try to find cost-effective ways of proceeding, he said. And that’s where the community tool shed will come in handy.

“It’s definitely gonna help,” he said. “It’s not just the house…When you lose your tools, you lose the way to prevent fire by property upkeep.”

Dawn Roh (center) says the community tool shed is more than a way to help people after their homes burned—it will hopefully serve as an important morale boost for families who are still struggling to start rebuilding. — Drew Penner/Perss Banner

Melissa Temes, 46, a board member with the Boulder Creek Parks and Recreation District, said she was impressed by the leadership district manager Hallie Greene showed during the tool shed construction—and other efforts—despite having lost her home to the fire.

“I’m always so impressed with Hallie,” Temes said, pointing to a broader Boulder Creek community spirit she feels this represents. “I think that’s what makes our community so amazing.”

Claire Hamilton, 14, says she’s amazed so many businesses chipped in for the tool shed. The 4-H Club member says even those whose homes survived the flames may have been affected in other ways.

“Some of us lost animals,” she said. “I know I did.”

She and her mother Diane remembered how they loaded as many chickens as they could into their vehicle as they fled for safer pastures in Oregon.

Now, Claire mourns the loss of the quail they couldn’t squeeze in.

“Any animals that were left most likely died,” she said, noting they returned to find smoke damage to their own home.

A tool shed will hit the spot for families still working to pick up the pieces, she believes—particularly among Santa Cruz Mountains people.

“You need tools,” she said, adding, “A lot of people are Do-It-Yourself-ers.”

For 38-year-old Rasmus Fonseca and his family, there are geological issues with their property that have to be addressed before they can get the OK to rebuild their wildfire-destroyed home.

“We’re not doing anything until that clears,” he said. “Everything’s a little bit on hold right now.”

But after all the paperwork and waiting around, he expects to make use of an auger and a cement mixer, so he can start building retaining walls and completing other fundamental improvements.

“We’re in a big budget crunch right now,” he said, adding being able to borrow a generator will be a game-changer. “We’re going to be working on a lot that doesn’t have power.”

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