Witch fire victims share prevention advice

   After losing their house and business office in the Witch fire nearly two years ago, the Booth family feels more prepared today should a wildfire head their way again.

   “I guarantee you if we see smoke, we’ll be ready,” said Robert Booth.

    Settled in a new home on their property, thanks to the efforts of Salvation Army, Robert and Nichole Booth and their five children are especially grateful to the community, nonprofit agencies and people and businesses from all over the country that helped them get back on their feet.

   “Just the outpouring was amazing,” said Nichole. “Disasters bring out the best in people.”

    The Booths did not have house insurance in 2007 when the wind-driven fire approached their property.  According to Nichole, after the Cedar fire in 2003, their insurance company canceled them, even though they did not have to evacuate.

   Now, Robert said, they were able to get insurance  for their new home.   

   “I’m not sure why, what changed,” he said.

   To be prepared for the fire season, Robert said he’s keeping his property cleared of brush and is looking into a fire retardant that can be sprayed on the house if there is another wildfire.  

   Describing the advancing Witch fire as a “wall of embers and flames” driven by high Santa Ana winds, Robert said there is nothing one can do to be 100 percent safe.

   Sixteen-year-old Charlie Booth vividly remembers the adrenaline rush he experienced when evacuating the home in the early morning hours in October 2007.

   “I was not thinking about losing the house,” he said.

   Afterward, he admitted, it was emotionally hard.

   “If you’ve got family and friends, you’ve got everything,” he said.

   Although he missed some of his belongings, he realized they could be replaced.

   Still, Charlie offered a bit of advice: “Keep your house uncluttered so you can get to stuff” when you need to evacuate.

   The Booths lost virtually everything in the fire, but were able to save the necessary medical equipment for their daughter, Alexis, who relies on a ventilator and is confined to a wheelchair because she is paralyzed on her left side. They also saved the computer hard drives for Robert’s water pump service but lost all the paperwork.

   If they ever have to evacuate again, the Booth family will not have to worry about losing such paperwork and important documents, which have now been downloaded into a personal online file cabinet. Marc Zimmerman, who launched his HomeDataGuardTM business in July, offered a free account to the Booth family.

   “Their story was so compelling.”  he said.

   The idea for the online service was conceptualized, Zimmerman explained, by his partner when she saw evacuees with cars jam-packed with papers and photos.

   Through the service, Nichole said she was able to download “everything from my kids’ diplomas to report cards.” She downloaded birth certificates, photos, videos and documents for her daughter’s medical supplies into the virtual file cabinet.

   “I think it’s a great Idea,” she said, adding that it made her realize all the videos and pictures she lost. She wishes they had been downloaded into such a system before the fire.

   Nichole acknowledged the generosity of all the people who came to their aid, including Suzie Fledderjohn, their long-term case worker from Salvation Army. Fledderjohn was instrumental in finding   the manufactured house that was brought to the Booths’ property and finished with slight modifications to be handicapped-accessible. They moved into the house almost a year ago.

   With money that was donated, the Booths were able to purchase equipment for Robert’s business to get it operating again so they could pay their own bills.

 “We do not want to be taken care of,” Nichole said.  

According to Robert, who works on well systems and pump systems, business is picking up.

“The only thing we’re lacking is an office,” he said.  

The office, Nichole laughed, is now in their bedroom.

   “Salvation Army gave us a house,” Nichole said, “and the community gave us the business.”

   
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