FAIRFIELD — Bianca Gaines saw her life change in a matter of seconds Aug. 27 when an urban brush fire ravaged her home and several others on Marigold Drive.
Her family escaped injury. However, she lost her rental home and all her belongings. But out of the bad, came the good in the form of the Solano Community Support Coalition.
It’s been both a financial and emotional lifesaver for her, she said.
Gaines, a Suisun City native, and her three young daughters, ages 2, 5 and 13, moved to Fairfield from Louisiana. They arrived with not much more than their clothes, she said. She rented the home on Marigold in March. After the fire, she was right back at square one, living at Mission Solano’s Bridge to Life homeless center.
“We didn’t have renter’s insurance, so we’re basically starting all over again,” she said. “It’s a difficult task right now.”
Right now she said she’s taking it one day at a time and looking for a place to live.
Right behind her offering support is the team of churches, businesses and organizations that formed the coalition the day after the fire. Gaines said they’ve supplied her with everything from gift cards, clothing and food to backpacks. She specifically named Mount Calvary Baptist Church and Liberty Christian Center as support lines.
Along with the needed staples of life, Gaines said people have reached out with emotional support as well.
“When I want to cry, I’ll get an (encouraging) text or a phone call,” she said.
The encouragement, she said, gives her a reprieve from the negative thoughts.
For Richard West, lead pastor at Liberty Christian, it’s a way for the church members to love their neighbors and “to help them in any way we can.”
“It’s really exciting to see a community that cares and that is coming together, from both social services and faith-based organizations working in conjunction with the city,” he said.
The group formed the day after the fire with Marilyn Ojeda, pastor at the Family Celebration Center, as the point woman. They reached out to all the families affected by the fire and spoke to most of them, Ojeda said. Most of the families are being taken care of by homeowners insurance, but three families were identified as needing help – all three renters without the benefit of homeowners insurance. Some of the affected homeowners also wanted to help the renters, Ojeda said.
“That was really cool,” she said.
Both Ojeda and West said help for the victims is going to be a long-term proposition: initially with money, gift cards, food and clothes and eventually furniture when they find new homes to rent. Ojeda said it feels good to help.
“It does,” she said. “I just want to see them get moved into homes or new apartments or whatever so they can get back to normal. We don’t want to forget them.”
While they will need furniture donations and size-specific clothing, right now they’re looking primarily for monetary donations through the Mission Solano website, and gift cards. West said this experience gave him an understanding as to why, during disasters, the American Red Cross asks for money.
“I fully get the importance of that (now),” he said. “What we don’t have is the ability to have a warehouse in order to gather stuff and sort (it).”
West said the money donated to the website is “100 percent going to the victims.”
In addition to the donated items, including local restaurants giving gift certificates, several in the group gave up some sweat and muscle helping victims clear fire debris from their backyards. On Labor Day alone, West said about 65 people showed up at Liberty Christian to help. Many were sent home.
The coalition agreed to stay together and continue to help after the relief effort for the Marigold victims reaches an end, West said. They’re also looking into putting together a church coalition of first responders to incidents such as shootings.
“That’s one of the cool things that has developed out of this – something long term that will be beneficial to the city,” he said.
They also plan to help the victims until they’re on their feet again. Having that support makes Gaines “feel good,” she said.
That’s a far cry from how she felt the day of the fire. Her youngest was home with her uncle, LaRue Montgomery, who is deaf, while Gaines picked up her middle child from school. Montgomery’s dog began barking and Gaines said “he knew something was wrong.”
“The dog led him to the back room, where the baby was,” Gaines said.
The 3:40 p.m. fire was also in the back – it began on the Interstate 80 side of the cement retaining wall and quickly crossed into the neighboring backyards. The 40-acre fire destroyed five homes and damaged another 10.
But out of the tragedy, Gaines said she made some new friends, which makes her happy. The rest, she said, are material things she knows can be replaced.
“(I) connected with the community,” she said. “This is where I’m from and (I’m) connecting with different churches that I never visited or went to.
“The churches and the community of Fairfield have been great to me.”
For more information on the relief effort, call Ojeda at 208-4101. To donate money, go to www.missionsolano.org.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.