Illuminated by twinkle lights, with the texture of crumpled foil and the shape of a mangled tree branch, the wall art in an Adelanto woman’s bedroom reminds her what it means to make a difference.
“To anyone else, it’s just a bunch of melted metal,” Heather Gaines said. But when the woman whose home was lost to the Bluecut Fire gave it as a gift, it was all she could afford to show her thanks for the hours Gaines spent searching for her pets.
It’s a melted car rim — “melted, but weren’t destroyed,” the woman told her.
“They survived the fire, but they will never be the same,” she told Gaines when they met on her charred property five days after the Bluecut Fire burned 36,274 acres and more than 100 homes.
“I want you to take this one. To remember that no matter what hits, you’re not destroyed … Also to remember the sacrifices you made and the happiness you brought to me and my kids when you found our cat and dog. Put this on your wall and always remember, you made a difference in someone’s life.”
Gaines was just one soldier in the many armies of volunteers who united during the Pilot and Bluecut fires last year, from business owners who donated food and supplies to fire evacuees, to those who went without sleep as they tirelessly searched for lost pets and livestock.
She described coming across dozens of people who helped while more than 34,000 homes were evacuated and “asked for nothing in return,” a number of whom she has developed lasting friendships with — including “a new best friend,” a dog who ran from the fire who Gaines rescued and named Buddy.
At the San Bernardino County fairgrounds, more than 400 animals were handled, fed by community donations, calmed by loving volunteers and, eventually, safely returned to their owners.
The volunteer coordinator at the fairgrounds, Dave Gross, reflected on the fire last week, noting that with the amount of surplus donations that were received and “the knowledge we have now,” “we are now equipped to take care of as many animals that could come to the fairgrounds.”
“I’ve learned that our community comes together at the drop of a hat. They supported everything wholeheartedly,” Gross said. “Would I do it again? Absolutely. The animals can’t take care of themselves; they need someone to take care of them. And it wasn’t just me. It was a team effort.”
Gross noted that “just about every feed store in the High Desert” donated animal supplies, while dozens of local restaurants provided food for the volunteers working day and night.
Those volunteers not at the fairgrounds might have been at Mea Ola’s Place, a horse rescue in Phelan that transformed into an evacuation and relief center during the fire. Or at the Sultana High School gym, which started as a care center and became a full-fledged shelter, hosting displaced residents when evacuations orders were extended.
Others were at the Apple Valley Animal Shelter, taking care of as many small animals — mostly dogs and cats — as they could take in, or transporting animals to the Devore Animal Shelter.
Still more were in the parking lot of the vacant Walmart lot off Balsam Avenue and Bear Valley Road in Victorville, which hosted emergency personnel to assist evacuees, or operating out of community churches that collected thousands of pounds of food and clothes to donate to people who’d lost everything to the fires.
Gaines, who has lived in Adelanto off and on for about 10 years, said that volunteering during the fires “was the first time up here I felt like a part of the community.”
“Now I know there are people out there that have a great heart and will pull together when we need it,” she said. “The Bluecut Fire changed a lot of lives. (It) destroyed lives and homes, and made the High Desert chaotic. But it also brought our community together.”