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Remembering the Carr Fire A Year Later

April Ehrlich | JPR News
People write messages of hope on a banner at the Sundial Bridge in Redding diuring a ceremony commemorating a year since the Carr Fire entered the city.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Sundial Bridge in Redding Friday night to remember what was lost in  last year’s Carr Fire in Shasta County, which took several lives and destroyed more than a thousand homes.

The atmosphere was both somber and, in a way, celebratory — many people came here to commemorate the community’s strength following one of the biggest disasters it has ever endured. A big band performed as teenagers did cartwheels in the grass. Some people ducked into the shade of the bridge and skipped “wishing rocks” into the Sacramento River. And others wrote messages of hope on two large banners at each end of the bridge.

Credit April Ehrlich | JPR News
People paint watercolors during a ceremony in Redding marking a year since the Carr Fire entered the city.

Bruce Brown of Old Shasta came here to look for people he connected with in the days following the catastrophe when he lived at a Red Cross evacuation center.

“We became friends there,” Brown said. “We cried and talked with each other. And we never really followed up on getting in touch with each other afterwards.”

Brown lost his home of 26 years and three of his five cats to the fire. He spent the following weeks living at an evacuation shelter and a local church. He now lives in a new home as he waits for his former neighborhood to rebuild its infrastructure.

Even people who didn’t lose their homes feel a sense of loss following the Carr Fire. Luz Maria Manzo lives in the unincorporated town of Keswick (northwest of Redding) which was hard hit by the fire. It had just grazed her property line, but that wasn’t the case for her nearby neighbors.

While watching people skipping rocks into the river on Friday, Manzo recalled the day she went back home after weeks of not knowing whether it was still standing

“It looked like a bomb had gone off,” Manzo said.

And while she feels enormously grateful that she still has a home, she says she still struggles.

“I feel guilty in a way,” Manzo said. “You feel guilty that your house is there, and everyone else’s is gone. It’s devastating.”

The city of Redding also held a ceremony that morning commemorating firefighter Jeremy Stoke, who died while combating the Carr Fire. He was one of eight people who died due to the fire, which destroyed about 1,600 buildings and burned about 230,000 acres.

April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.