For Trevor Quirk, the relief effort started on day one. On the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 5, as the Thomas fire fully invested itself into downtown Ventura, Quirk says he said to his wife, “Go down the mountain, go to my parents, and I’ll follow you down there. And I lied to her.”
Quirk then went on patrol. Driving down Sulphur Mountain Road he soon found a mother and child who had escaped on foot, and then his 93-year-old neighbor who was working on a tractor.
“It’s time to go, Bill,” Quirk said. “No,” his neighbor said. “When the fire comes, you stay home and you fight.” That statement has become a slogan for Trevor Quirk and signature hashtag to each of his posts on social media.
Upper Ojai Relief started the next morning. A breakfast burrito run to feed an unsuspecting fire crew became a pancake breakfast.
“We do the pancake breakfast,” Quirk said. “Then around 9 or 10, fire breaks out on the hill. I say, ‘We gotta jam’ and we work all day, all night cutting line. When we get back, I put it on Facebook: ‘Is anybody hungry?’ ” Food donations became food deliveries and eventually potluck dinner for fire victims from fire victims.
Soon the food runs took up too much space for everything in Quirk’s truck bed, so he asked Nick Payne, owner of Stagecoach Station — Upper Ojai’s neighborhood grocery store — if he could store his tools for a night. “Sorry, Nick,” the Upper Ojai Relief website says, “I know I just asked you to store some extra water in the corner.”
“We were in a mandatory evacuation zone,” Upper Ojai Relief member Peter Deneen explained. “Federal agencies don’t provide relief to mandatory evacuation zones.” Since evacuation orders have been lifted, the American Red Cross has contacted and is working with Upper Ojai Relief to fill needs as they arise.
Quirk grinned. “You don’t need government support when you’ve got this!” For himself and other volunteers at Upper Ojai Relief, the idea of community has been renewed. “It’s just neighbors helping neighbors. There’s some seriously positive energy here. This fire has awakened something; it’s brought out a renewed sense in the people of this community,” Quirk said.
As calls went out over social media, people who had not evacuated started showing up. “There’s people walking up to each other and saying, ‘I haven’t seen you in 10 years,’ and hugging, crying. Right here in this parking lot,” Quirk said.
He has seen support grow from the immediate vicinity to across the county and now across the world, having received donations from African and European donors and even support from people who themselves have lost homes in the Thomas Fire.
While many have lost some, and some have lost all, all have regained a community.
Upper Ojai Relief can be found at www.upperojairelief.com and at the Stagecoach Station, 12679 Ojai-Santa Paula Road.