How a volunteer organization helped Siskiyou communities during the McKinney, other fires

Skip Descant
Special to the Siskiyou Daily News
Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) set up a public information station in Happy Camp during the McKinney Fire.

Working behind the scenes during this year's fire season have been volunteers, offering public information about fires as well helping to clear defensible space. 

Community Organized Relief Effort, known as CORE, aided a number of communities during the McKinney and other fires. 

In Dunsmuir, CORE workers helped to create defensible space, free of charge, for residents, while also serving the Incident Management Team in Happy Camp, particularly in areas like offering public information. CORE officials reached out during the McKinney Fire to inquire how the organization could help. 

“I said, well, there’s a lot of different opportunities. You can be on the public side. You can be on the firefighting side. You could be working with incident management teams,” said Scot Steinbring, director of operations for Torchbearr, a fire education organization advocating for safe, prescribed burns to reduce wildfire vulnerability, and who worked closely with CORE. 

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CORE, an international organization, which grew out of relief efforts from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, led by actor Sean Penn, has been instrumental in responding to disaster scenes to offer relief and generally help where it's needed.

The McKinney Fire ignited July 29 and burned more than 60,130 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service via InciWeb. Much of the destruction occurred in the community of Klamath River. All told, 185 structures were destroyed, according the Siskiyou County Office of Emergency Services.

“I’ve never seen this kind of concept before. But this could work. It could benefit the public, and the fire response,” said Steinbring. “It’s been very, very positive.”

“We set up a table outside the post office and the IMT (incident management team,) provided us with updated maps and Yeti Fire information to share with community members,” said Mary Bozzacco, a wildfire mitigation project manager with CORE. “We also assisted with Code Red sign ups and Zone Haven education, and making sure they have an evacuation plan in place.”

CORE recruits largely from the community being served, as well as contracts with other organizations — like the Karuk Tribe — to assist in the residential defensible space work. CORE has a partnership with Dunsmuir's Disaster Planning Advisory Committee and the Fire Safe Council of Siskiyou County. 

“Additionally, we hired a local fuels reduction crew to do home/structure preparation in Happy Camp,” said Bozzacco. “They moved vegetation and flammable household materials away from homes.” 

Developing networks and skills related to fire response and mitigation could likely turn out to be valuable assets to hone, given the increasing fire danger experienced not just across California, but the western United States. 

“CORE’s looking at this as, how can I do this and make an impact?” said Steinbring, adding, the concept could possibly be expanded to other parts of the country.

Skip Descant is a freelance journalist. He’s written for newspapers in California, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. He lives in downtown Yreka.