California’s Carr Fire, one of the worst in the state’s history, has been burning for almost four weeks and has claimed at least eight lives. Police said it was accidentally started by a trailer that was being towed and got a flat tire — and when the rim of the tire scratched the street, sparks flew to nearby underbrush.
The trailer was allegedly towed by a couple who are now despondent and blame themselves for the massive devastation that ensued, according to people who say they have information about the couple but are protecting their identity.
“She has been crying day and night on her couch,” Redding resident Rachel Pilli posted on a private Facebook page for moms. Pilli’s information came from a local firefighter friend of hers who knows the couple because they live next to his mother, she said in an interview with The Washington Post.
With permission, Pilli’s friend Hope Seth reposted the message on the Facebook page Carr Fire Stories, which was set up as a forum on which residents could share stories of both loss and rebuilding from the fire.
The blaze is so intense that it initially unleashed a vortex of winds that caused a “fire tornado” and has scorched more than 200,000 acres and 1,000 homes. Despite the extensive damage, Seth and Pilli did not want the disconsolate couple to feel the weight of the devastation alone.
“Do you think we can show some grace and extend kindness (and even forgiveness) for the shame and despair that she is experiencing?” Seth wrote Monday, adding:
“We understand this was tragic for many and emotions may be varied and it be ‘too soon’ for some. But please only message us if you have something gracious to say, perhaps as though it was your own grandma and grandpa. This may be one of our finest moments, Redding!”
The response has been overwhelming, the women said, with about 700 heartfelt comments of understanding and a general sentiment that what happened was an accident and that it could have happened to any of them.
“I just wanted to give them a card and show compassion to tell them it wasn’t their fault,” Pilli said. “I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, but it became such a big deal because people are so kind and compassionate. It’s just been an avalanche.”
One of the most powerful comments came from Diana Woodley, who said she is the daughter of Ed Bledsoe, the man who lost his wife, Melody Bledsoe, 70, and two great-grandchildren, James Roberts Jr., 5, and Emily Roberts, 4, when the massive fire reached their home before they could get out.
Woodley wrote: “I am Ed Bledsoes daughter it is not your fault please don’t beat yourself up accidents happen everyday please forgive yourself. You are loved and i to have thought about you everyday rest easy my friends. God loves you too. And may God shine his face upon you and Bless you in every area of your life.”
Another commenter was Jeanine Coffee, who wrote: “This fire took the homes of my parents, my grandmother and myself. But not once have I blamed you! It was an accident, nothing more. Please do not torment yourself further! God bless you, be at peace.”
Seth printed out about 700 messages, which took 50 sheets of paper, she said. She and Pilli also collected about 100 handwritten notes and some flowers and delivered them to the firefighter, who plans to take them to the couple next week.
Seth said she hopes the notes help ease the trauma for the couple.
“Grief is funny how it works out,” Seth said. “We might be saying, ‘Wow, look at the all the support,’ but we don’t know how they’re taking it.”
She said she was surprised at how few of the hundreds of comments were negative, with most simply showing love and support. A few examples:
Facebooker Jo Ann Isabella Gallagher posted: “May you find peace in the fact that it was an accident. A mechanical error. Nothing in anyone’s control. Nothing you could have foreseen. God bless and may you heal.”
Diana Brown-Seher added: “Please don’t blame yourself. It could have happened to any of us. There is no shame in wanting to take your camper out and enjoy nature. Peace be with you. Love and blessings as well from our family to yours.”
And Libbie Landles-Cobb wrote: “You have been on my mind and in my heart since this terrible tragedy terrorized us all. I can only imagine what a weight this must be on you. Please hear all of our love and support. You are just as much a victim of this horrible event as all of us and I hope you are able to feel the support of our community as we begin to heal together.”