Credit: James Faircloth
CHICO, Calif. (KTVU) - The fire is out, and this week students began returning to school, as those affected by the Camp Fire in Butte County seek some sense of normalcy. But for the thousands of residents who lost everything in the deadliest and most destructive inferno ever to hit California, it's still a long way before they can even begin piecing their lives back together.
Their stories of loss and devastation have captured the attention of people across the country including that of one man in Colorado, who with his 6-year-old daughter on Monday completed their now second RV trip to Chico to help families left homeless.
After watching the devastation from his home in Denver, James Faircloth felt he needed to act.
"... a veteran sleeping in their car, a baby sleeping in a car ... it's not ok," he told KTVU.
He wanted to know how he could help. So after searching Craigslist in the Chico area, he said he found that the enormous need for temporary housing by fire evacuees was "mind boggling." He also said he came upon a listing in which someone was offering victims of the fire free RV parking with utilities included.
So nine days after the Camp Fire broke out, Faircloth set up a GoFundMe page and invited people to join in his effort to help.
Motivated by a deep desire to take action, Faircloth wrote, "Chico, CA may be a 19 hour drive from Denver but these are our neighbors. We have to do something."
Through his GoFundMe campaign, he quickly received help from donors, including friends and family and purchased an RV that would soon become the future home to a family that had little but the shirts on their backs.
He got the word out on social media and got connected with the Woods, a family of six that was greatly in need.
So just two days before Thanksgiving, the dad of four took his youngest, Luna, whom he affectionately called his "toothless co-pilot," and filled up the RV with supplies, including diapers and formula. The father-daughter team then set out on a nearly 1,200 mile road trip to Chico.
Once they arrived, they met with the Woods, whose youngest child was only six weeks old, and the Faircloths delivered a very grateful family a new home.
In a post, Faircloth shared the frightening story of how the family narrowly escaped the flames and said they felt fortunate to be alive.
"They raced from fire at daybreak in November 8th in the fathers company Prius and lost their home, family car and every other possession yet still consider themselves 'lucky.'" Faircloth wrote on his GoFundMe page.
And after carrying out such an act of generosity, it was Faircloth who was filled with gratitude. "We simply drove the RV here over two days with the intention of being nice to someone and ended up having the best thanksgiving ever," he wrote.
Their return back to Colorado was filled with unexpected gestures of kindness from strangers. It included a ride from an Uber driver from Paradise who had lost everything he owned in the fire. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the driver took the father-daughter pair all the way to the Bay Area, where the two would catch a flight back to Denver out of San Francisco International Airport.
Exhausted and wiped out from their journey, Faircloth and his daughter missed their plane. But perhaps it was karma or a perfect example of getting what you give, United Airlines workers came to their aid. Not only did they buy the pair breakfast, they upgraded Faircloth and his daughter to first class on the next flight to Denver on the busiest travel day of the year.
In his original post on GoFundMe, he wrote of his travel plans to California and said that afterward, they would return to Denver, "back to work. and back to school... and life will go on like normal for us."
But after the trip to California, after everything he saw -- the loss, the destruction, and the humble and gracious attitude of those whose lives had been forever altered by tragedy -- going back to "normal" was no longer an option for the Colorado man.
"Now having been to the area and seeing how much need is there and the spirit of people there, it's been so powerful," Faircloth told KTVU. "We joke that it's the hardest place to give an RV away because everyone says 'there's a family that needs it more than us, give it to them.'"
On Dec. 1, he packed up another RV, and he and his toothless-wonder found themselves again California-bound for a trip that would take almost 24-hours, some of it on snowy, hard to drive roads.
Word of his efforts to help those left homeless had spread since that first delivery and the requests for help had been pouring in.
Faircloth said one family's plea for help immediately caught his attention.
"If all goes well we will deliver this home to a beautiful family of an Army veteran who consider themselves lucky to be sleeping in their car," Faircloth wrote as he set out on his second road trip to meet with fire victims.
He had been contacted by a wife of a U.S. Army veteran who told him that her family of five had been sleeping in their car or on a friend's couch but was having a difficult time finding a place to live after losing the home they rented for almost 20 years.
"We just need a place to call home until someone will be kind enough to rent to us on our budget," Monica Evans wrote, "Please consider us, we could really use it."
Faircloth answered their request and delivered the news in a emotional call, which was captured on video. "Oh my gosh! I can't stop crying," said Monica Evans whom Faircloth later described as his "new friend for life."
When they met the Evans, the tears continued and Faircloth described carrying out the delivery of the RV as an honor.
"We handed them the keys, the title and my youngest daughter handed this proud retired service member a donated American flag," he wrote.
The Colorado man and his team of volunteers have so far received RV requests from more than
100 families left homeless by the fire. They said they hope to help find homes for each and every one of those families.
At this point, they have raised more than $16,000 and have identified 16 families that will receive RVs. The mobile homes will house 59 people, including 29 children, a firefighter, and several dealing with severe medical conditions, according to Natalie Feulner who is helping with the donation campaign.
Faircloth has expressed deep gratitude toward the many people who have joined in the effort to help provide the much needed gift of shelter.
He said he's been overwhelmed by the response he's received from volunteers and donors who have helped carry this project. "I'm not really in charge, it's just sort of happening, unfolding as it is supposed to," he explained. "Every time I get to a point where I want to throw my hands up in the air because of a hurdle, it's magically knocked down and I'm not able to give up."
He applauded the collaborative spirit, saying it's inspiring. "...we believe that anything is possible," he wrote, "especially in this great country, when we agree to put our differences aside and work together to help one another."
Faircloth described how energized he felt as he returned home from this last trip and said he was determined more than ever to help those affected by the disaster.
"There's a feeling of overwhelming satisfaction after successfully handing over an RV and then comes the desire to help more," he explained.
It's something that hasn't been lost on his daughter and road trip partner. When he asked Luna if she'd be up for delivering another RV to a family in need, "She immediately said 'yes!'" the dad told KTVU. "She loves it, she's amazing and is now telling anybody who will listen about how Santa and God are going to love it and how we're just trying to help people."
Through it all, Faircloth said he's been fueled by the resilience of a community he's now become a part of. "Everyone there is affected and everyone there is still getting out of bed in the morning and trying to make the best of it," Faircloth told KTVU.
"And now I feel connected to the community and a responsibility to the people living there," he added. "How do you not help? They were strangers before, but now we know them and you have to help people you know."
This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.