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Lending a helping hand... Gavilan fire victim Dorothy Roth rebuilds, with a community behind her


Last updated 2/15/2007 at Noon

“I can’t thank you enough,” Dorothy Roth said, her voice trembling. Against a mountaintop backdrop of spectacular views, she stood before a group of volunteers at her home site on February 10, five years to the day the Gavilan Fire swept through De Luz Canyon, taking with it 43 homes, including hers. All the homeowners were able to rebuild, except Roth. Around her, now swept into neat piles of rubble, lay the remains of her home. By afternoon it would be gone, the pad scraped clean by her friends, and for the Roth family, that mountaintop would represent a new beginning.

Members of the North County Fire Protection District (NCFPD), their Explorer Scouts, a contingent of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) workers, friends, community business and religious leaders – all there to support the cleanup effort – had arrived early.

“We’re here to help Dorothy close one chapter of her life and open a new one,” said John Buchanan, spokesman for the NCFPD.

In the background the rumble of heavy machinery added a note of energy and hope to his words. Cliff Ayers deftly maneuvered his yellow bulldozer, scooping piles of broken concrete into a waiting dump truck. Behind him, Armando Flores operated a pile-driver Bobcat, his truck already commandeered to transport small loads of debris from the site to a dumpster below Roth’s steep winding driveway. CERT and Scout volunteers swarmed over heaps of rusted metal, dragging forward pieces of the Roth household and memories to be carted off: bed springs, a colander, a twisted wrought iron fence section, the chassis of a car.

Youngster Carter Reynolds, a CERT volunteer who completed the training as a Boy Scout project, inspected a small cup he’d found, then trudged over to Dorothy holding it in his outstretched hand. Ruth Parker, a self-proclaimed “old-time friend of Dorothy’s,” pulled on her gloves, surveyed the debris, then hefted an unrecognizable piece of metal into a truck bed. Kathy Beebe, Linda Bannerman and Michelle Wright, all CERT members, stopped to take break from gathering debris.

“If I was in the same situation, I’d hope someone would do this for me,” Beebe said, bending once again to the hard work, lifting and straining, but she was undaunted.

“Look at the money we’re saving instead of going to a gym!” she joked.

“We’re not only helping to rebuild her home; we’re helping rebuild her life,” said Wright, a CERT trainer. Wright worked in Louisiana in the Katrina aftermath.

All the volunteers had their own reasons for coming out to help. The neighbor helping neighbor “friendly village” sentiment, so prized in Fallbrook, epitomized the generosity of manpower and support throughout the day.

“I stood here with Dorothy two years ago taking photos, trying to find ways to get help,” said Pastor Art Blodgett. He didn’t seem surprised that the day had finally arrived.

“Her spirit never changed from day one,” he said.

Chaplain Ron Ritter, who addressed the group briefly, compared the day’s event in relationship to Roth’s tragedy as a “phoenix resurrected.”

New Fallbrook businessman Chad Mills, owner of Crown Coffee, responded to a news announcement on Channel 10 by donating coffee to the workers. “We look for fundraisers to support,” Mills said, then added that the theme of his business is “coffee with a cause.”

Employees of A&W Paving operated the heavy equipment and dump trucks donated by Fallbrook Rentals owner Rick Windbigler and fueled through the generosity of Fallbrook Oil.

Fire Marshall Sid Morel, Steve Abbott and John Buchanan, with James Beebe from NCFPD, directed traffic to keep the day’s objective in focus, all the while supervising their seven Scouts enthusiastically filling truck after truck with debris.

February 10, 2007, was indeed a new beginning for the Roth family, whose rallying efforts to rebuild their lives and protect the lives of others throughout the past five years has resulted in Fallbrook’s first Fire Safe Council, the creation of Fallbrook CERT, evacuation maps in both English and Spanish, animal evacuation and rescue teams, first-time emergency helicopter coverage for local area fires, the first-ever forum of emergency services to organize for disaster preparedness and large grants to fund weed abatement and fire fuel elimination programs.

As Dorothy Roth and her family look to the future, more volunteers are standing in line to help them rebuild. Spearheaded by Morel, a licensed general contractor who is overseeing the rebuilding, off-duty firefighters who are also painters, plumbers, framers and drywallers have stepped forward to work on the project.

“I’m getting four to five calls a day from people wanting to help,” Morel said. A company that manufactures beams has already donated $1,000 worth of beams to the house. But they still need more tradespeople to volunteer.

To volunteer a trade, contact Sid Morel at (760) 723-2015. In addition, a fundraising effort started by Blodgett but now coordinated by Fallbrook United Methodist Church Pastor Dr. Dennis Ginoza, is collecting money for materials and supplies. To donate to the Dorothy Roth Fire Recovery Fund, call (760) 728-1472 for details.


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