Six Scout units in Butte County lost everything in Northern California wildfire

The Elks Lodge in Paradise, Calif., was home to Troop 316 and Pack 316.

We’re beginning to learn of the ways the Scouting family was affected by the deadly Northern California wildfire known as the Camp Fire.

In Butte County, Calif., which contains the town of Paradise, 300 Scouting families were displaced. Six of the county’s 23 Scouting units — all in Paradise — lost their meeting place and all their equipment in the blaze. The Paradise Elks Lodge, home to a Cub Scout pack and Boy Scout troop, burned to the ground.

The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. Tragically, 85 people died and 13,972 residences were destroyed.

Golden Empire Council Field Director Matthew Poye says that no members of Scouting families were among the deceased.

“The first thing we did was form a phone tree to make sure that all of our families were safe, and luckily we are all accounted for,” Poye says. “I was incredibly impressed with the actions of the local unit leaders as they reached out to their families even though they also lost everything. The community surrounding this disaster has been absolutely outstanding.”

A Boy Scout carries a bag of pet food — a reminder that our four-legged friends haven’t been forgotten in the collection drives.

Stepping up for others

As soon as the evacuation order ended and residents were allowed to return to the area, local Scout leaders stepped up and stepped in.

Within 48 hours of the order being lifted, the Golden Empire Council converted its NorCal Scout Shop in Chico, Calif., into a donation distribution center. Hundreds of Scouts and leaders showed up to collect, separate and distribute clothing, food and toiletries.

The council has collected more than 25,000 food items so far and distributed these donations to local evacuation centers. As of this writing, Scouts and Scouters have performed a combined 10,000 hours of service at eight different evacuation centers in the area.

After just five days of collecting, the council had so many donations that it was running out of space. But that was just a speed bump. Local businesses donated warehouse space where Scouts and volunteers can receive, sort and organize the donations to make sure they end up in the areas of highest need.

Local businesses donated warehouse space to hold the collected items.
Troop 125 of Redding, Calif., accepts donations.

Donations kept pouring in. At first, Scouting units in California cities like Redding, Sacramento and San Francisco held food and donation drives. As word spread, the map expanded.

Scouts and Scouters in Washington state, Oregon, Nevada and Hawaii answered the call. Soon, Scout units in New Jersey and Florida joined in, too.

“With the love and support that we have been receiving, we know that our Scouting units and their families will be taken care of and our communities will again be as beautiful as they once were,” said Joshua Ramsey, district administrator of the Golden Empire Council’s Ranchero West District, which serves Butte County. “We feel truly blessed to have such strong Scouting support.”

Cub Scouts from Pack 42 in Redding, Calif., collected donations for victims of the Butte County wildfire. Redding is about 85 miles northwest of Paradise.

Paying it forward

Scouts and leaders in the Golden Empire Council have been volunteering for food and donation drives to help their community even though some are still rebuilding their own lives.

Affected packs and troops have heard from Scout units who want to donate gear, uniforms and awards to ensure “that our Scouts and leaders look like Scouts,” Ramsey says. One unit — Pack 645 of Lafayette, Calif., 150 miles south of Paradise — sent a box of candy for their fellow Cub Scouts to enjoy.

But the attitude in Butte County seems to be exactly what you’d expect: The Scouts and leaders are worried about others more than they’re worried about themselves.

And so the Scouts of the Ranchero West District will continue helping other people — however long it takes.

“This is not a sprint; this is a marathon,” Ramsey says. “Our mission in Ranchero West is to be here to continue that call for service. When items are needed, we will be here. When our families return home and need help in clean-up, we will be here. When our communities start to rebuild, we will be here.

“Our mission is not over. It has just barely begun.”

Cub Scouts, wearing masks to guard against poor air quality, help sort donations.

How to help

Learn more about how to help by visiting this page from the Golden Empire Council.