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Fire leaves 17 homeless; community pulls together to support victims
On the morning of his 21st birthday on Saturday, Damon Tullis was sitting on his couch when his neighbor came over with news of an emergency.
"My friend came and got me and said, 'Hey, our house is on fire,'" Tullis said.
Tullis walked out, expecting to see a little smoke. Instead, he saw the building adjacent to his engulfed in flames.
"There was a big roar. The fire alarm was going off and the grass was on fire. Everyone was panicking," Tullis said.
The two tried to enter the burning apartment to rescue two small dogs, but they were too late. The rooms were too filled with heat and smoke, and the dogs died. The fire at the Colusa Green Apartments on Highway 20 on the southeast side of town left 17 people, including at least five children, without homes.
Government agencies and nonprofit organizations are pulling resources together to provide support and resources for the victims.
The apartments are Section 8 housing with rental assistance provided.
"It's mostly low-income," Tullis said.
"It's kind of sad. Eight families lost their houses, basically," he said.
The Colusa Fire Department responded to the fire in Building D at 1799 Highway 20 around 11:30 a.m. Saturday to find the northeast section of the building burning, Fire Chief Randy Dunn said.
Williams Fire Protection Agency and Sacramento River Fire Protection assisted in fighting the fire, Dunn said.
The 27 firefighters that responded had the fire under control by 12:22 p.m.
The flames destroyed two apartments, left two with major smoke damage and two with major water damage. All occupants of the eight apartments in Building D were displaced due to a combination of damage and a lack of power, Dunn said.
Red Cross, county help
The American Red Cross and Colusa County Department of Behavioral Health were at the scene on Saturday to provide aid to the victims, but now a larger group has come together to provide support.
Michelle Perkins, Emergency Services coordinator for the American Red Cross, was on the scene after being called in by the Fire Department.
"We assess the situation and talk with the clients to find out what their immediate needs are," Perkins said.
She said they helped place five families in a hotel, the other three had a place to go.
"We also gave them a credit card for food and clothing," Perkins said.
She said the Red Cross often provides mental health support services, but the county is providing support.
"I wish all my counties were like this," said Perkins, who works with nine counties in Northern California.
The Disaster Action Team of the Red Cross covers three days of support for emergency victims.
Huge number of victims
Agencies met on Tuesday to help put together assistance and to find places for people to stay long-term and provide resources.
"In 10 years, I haven't seen eight families be displaced by fire," said Red Cross volunteer Jeanie Kessinger, who began volunteering with the organization following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
She has provided disaster aid to a single family displaced before, but not for an entire apartment building, she said.
Kessinger attended a meeting on Tuesday morning with agencies to chart a path and combine resources to help the displaced families.
"We want to make sure they are in a comfortable environment and they get to move forward," she said.
By 1 p.m. Tuesday, One-Stop and Impact for Life were able to provide funding for the families to stay in a hotel for four additional nights. After those four nights, Kessinger said, the Salvation Army has a program that can help.
In addition, the group created a list of resources for free food and meals for the families.
"You can't have your clients running around in the heat doing the legwork," Kessinger said.
She said she was amazed at all of the groups coming together.
"This is Colusa County at its best," she said.
How You Can Help
• Donations of gift cards or resources for the families displaced by the fire can be dropped off at Davison Drugs & Stationary on Market Street or Impact for Life on Freemont Street in Colusa. Cash donations cannot be accepted.
• In addition to basic food and supplies, volunteers are looking for backpacks and school supplies for the displaced children.
Organizations and people providing assistance to fire victims and charting a path forward:
• A Hand Up at Colusa First Presbyterian Church.
• Assembly of God Church.
• City of Colusa, building inspector.
• City of Colusa, Fire Department.
• Colusa Food Closet.
• Colusa Green's apartment manager.
• Community Action Agency of Butte County.
• Colusa County, Department of Health and Human Services.
• Impact for Life Thrift Store.
• One Stop Outreach coordinator.
• Safe Haven.
• Salvation Army.