Coming Together After a Wildfire

An Erickson employee lost their home in a wildfire, but his neighbors (and co-workers) have come together in support of each other.  

Gari Wolff and his wife Patti lived in the same neighborhood for 22 years. In September 2020, the well-known Almeda wildfire ripped through Southern Oregon, fast and furious with wind, heat, and dryness. 

The Erickson Incorporated electrical designer/drafter said that his neighborhood didn’t stand a chance. After 26 years with the company, he said that even the S-64 Air Crane® Helicopter couldn’t have saved the 23 homes in his neighborhood. 

Although he did say that having an S-64 Air Crane® Helicopter there may have helped matters by use of the Sea Snorkel device which can refill in as little as 30 seconds and can spray close to 800 gallons per minute of water over almost 230 feet – from both fresh and salt water to drown fires. 

While Wolff and his family of three who were living in the house at the time, lost everything in the fire, he said that it has really brought people together, to know what is most important. 

Most of the neighborhood is rebuilding on the same property where their former homes once stood. 

Wolff and his wife are rebuilding and are planning to move into their new home in July 2021, about 11 months after their home burned to the ground. 

Wolff said that what’s interesting about this fire is that their loop of the neighborhood was decimated, while the other side of the neighborhood was intact, with no fire damage. 

But it’s the things of life, the possessions that Gari and Patti reflect upon. 

“It’s so devastating to walk through the ashes of our life’s accumulation of things. That’s what people say it’s just things, but after 65 years of collecting…it is not just things, it’s memories, hand-me-downs, collectibles (and) things that can never be replaced. There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t remember special items that are now gone. This is not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy,” Wolff reflected in a company letter to his peers. 

He also cites feeling very supported by Erickson, his employer, and his coworkers. “On the bright side our friends, family, and co-workers (and the company) have been very supportive,” he said. In this situation, the company would supply time off as well as collect donations for needed items.  

“I appreciate the support from co-workers and the company – when you are running out of the house with a couple pairs of shorts and jeans, you really have nothing,” he said. With the new home, he said that they are going to keep things simple with new possessions, “We don’t want to accumulate very much before the move. We won’t accumulate the stuff we used to,” he added. He noted that in the future, they will value gifts and tokens from the grandkids over new possessions.  

But he said that even with the insurance money, the new home is a big investment, “We just need to make sure we can get the house built. There’s a lot of money going into the house,” he said. After the fire, Wolff’s sister gave them shelter for a couple of days until the insurance company kicked in with funds for a hotel. They stayed in a hotel for about a month before getting into a rental – something Wolff said was tough given the tight rental market. 

He feels fortunate though for being able to rent and to continue working during this grim time. Wolff’s role in the company is important as he creates digital versions of all the original Sikorsky drawings bought by Erickson – all original hand drawings of the aircraft. 

Fortunately, Wolff said that he was able to contact his original builder to discuss rebuilding a new home. Something that would give the couple hope after such a devastating experience. 

He said, “The day after the fire I was in contact with our original contractor that initially built our house. He said we were #1 on his list. Luckily, he at once ordered the material to re-build our house locking in the price of all the material.”   

Wolff is grateful given the price increase on lumber in 2021, noting that they can move in this July. 

He issued a caution to folks who own homes and are insured to audit their homes and take pictures and write down descriptions of each item in the home. “It’s very hard to value items when they are gone,” he said. He also noted that it took three weeks of daily meetings with the insurance company, “to go through the home one room at a time, in our mind, remembering what was there,” and note what they owned.  

He said most of the neighbors are also rebuilding and he foresees, “A lot of neighborhood barbecues once we all move into our new homes.”   

Even with such devastation, people are resilient, and in tragic times find a way to come together and to be grateful for what they have.