The nation turned its gaze to a city named Redding, California, last summer 2018, when the Carr Fire broke out because of sparks from a trailer’s flat tire going down the road close to our beloved Whiskeytown Lake, our summer playground, which skirted the area close to our city limits.
This Carr Fire has been one of the most deadly fires in California history, claiming 8 lives, burning over 1,000 homes, and destroying 229,651 acres.
All of us who live in this area remember where we were when the uncontrollable fires broke out consuming our forests and homes. We wept with those who lost their homes and waited anxiously with those who had been evacuated, praying and asking for God’s mercy. Churches, like Bethel became a hub of activity for donations and workers to come and help those in crisis.
It’s strange how tragedy pulls people from every walk of life together and makes them family.
All of a sudden something happened. A phenomenon happened that fires cannot destroy, but only fuel. Our city came together through signs posted everywhere, thanking the first responders and bringing hope back inside our city limits. Kindness and gratefulness became the currency at businesses and stores throughout our city.
During this time, I knew that creativity amongst my team could rebuild hope and bring unity back to our people through a shared experience, where we saw the Carr Fire from a different vantage point. Not from the fires daunting perspective, but from the heroes that arose all around our city because of the crisis that was at hand.
Faces of Redding Event
So, shortly after the fires were contained, I contacted our city about putting on an event, called the Faces of Redding, which I had done last year to honor heroes in Redding, which have helped our city grow. As I talked to Kim Niemer, head of Parks and Recreation and the Arts in Redding, I asked her if she would nominate different people she knew and that others knew who had brought courage and displayed heroism to help during our time of need.
She got to work, and nominated 30 amazing men and women, which we honored. My team interviewed them, so that we could hear their stories. Then, they took photos of each one in their natural setting, capturing their unique personality. After this, my portrait artists began to craft their image, praying over every detail of their face so they could capture the essence and life of each one. All of a sudden, images of hope and resilience arose out of the ashes of the fires.
On January 25th at 4 PM these heroes were honored at Redding City Hall, where we invited the public, where the honorees’ friends and family could come, and where my team could unveil these portraits with their stories. On all three floors, people could read their bios, see their photos, and then admire their portrait. As the black cloths were unveiled and each hero read and saw their impact on this city, a wave of honor, kindness, and generosity swept into our government halls, echoing to the fabric of our city’s call that we have overcome and become Redding Strong.
Here are some of the stories of the heroes we honored:
Fire fighter Jeremy Stokes
After the Mayor Julie Winter, Kim Niemer, and I spoke with those who had gathered for this event on the first floor altogether, we wanted to honor Jeremy Stokes who had lost his life. We unveiled his portrait in front of the firemen he served with and his wife Allison. It was a poignant moment as all the 200 guests cried together because one of our heroes had fallen. Jeremy had been a Redding firefighter for 14 years and had come back early from vacation to fight the fire. The fire chief said, “Jeremy paid the ultimate sacrifice to save citizens and the community.” It was one of those moments I will always remember. Only Kingdom Artists can heal the wounds of a city that has deeply lost so much.
Police Chief, Roger Moore
As I thanked Roger for leading our city through the chaos of trauma, neighborhoods gone, vandalism and more, I was moved by his humility and character.
Roger never stopped serving our community during the fires, even when his own home burned down. In a time of crisis, he and the police rose to help maintain order, kindness, and resources to so many troubled citizens and families.
Turtle Bay Park Worker, Sharon Clay
Turtle Bay Park, which houses over 87 animals, ranging from birds, snakes, beavers, bobcats, and much more were in danger when the fires almost reached the park. So, Sharon and her husband, Wayne took in ALL 87 animals, yes ALL 87 into their home. You could say she had a zoo experience on her birthday (the evacuation happened on her birthday), as she carted and cared for them for over 10 days.
When I talked to her during the event, she said that the bobcat had to stay in the bathtub because he needed to move about and the smells (I could imagine) were over the top every morning when they had to clean out the crates. Talk about a Noah’s Ark 10 day challenge! My granddaughter would’ve loved to have slept over (she’s 4 years old and loves Turtle Bay).
Motorcyclist from Search and Rescue, Rick Lemler
Rick saw the flames coming towards his house and knew that his house would not make it. Instead of trying to save it, he got on his motorcycle and sped through the mountainous terrain in Redding, knocking on doors and getting people to safety who would’ve been otherwise trapped. He is also in construction and is helping his whole neighborhood rebuild!
Summary of Stories
There are so many other stories that brought tears to my eyes. Brandi Merkel, sales and marketing director for Holiday Inn converted their ballroom into a dorm for over 150 firefighters. She not only fed them, and offered massages after grueling days of fighting fires, but she got over 50 people to wash over 100 loads of wash per day for over a month for all the firefighters!
I talked to Ahab Ahindi, owner of Madaynes restaurant and he said that he woke up after the fires and told his wife, Jessica, that we have to do something. So, he opened up his shop and gave free meals for those who had lost their homes or were evacuated.
It’s incredulous because he went through over 8 pounds of coffee per day, but never had to order any during the Carr Fire. One day he actually had more coffee at the end of the day than when he started! God provides and then he just shows off!
Comments about the event
We had so many people, newscasters, and around 600 or more people who came out and they shared that their hope for humanity was restored. These stories so moved them because kindness, sacrifice, and courage are not something that a fire or a tragedy can ever match. Love wins!
My heart is that Redding would not just be known in the news for having one of the worst fires in California’s history, but we as human beings would take heart and see what love, kindness, and sacrifice can do as a memorial to our Redding Strong community. For we will not let tragedy define us, but we will let courage and hope refine us into something even stronger than before the fires.
Here is a song, that one of my team, Christopher Sims wrote for this event, which sums up how I feel:
Green grass is growing again
In all the places that it hasn’t been Can’t you feel a brand new day?
Feel the light of day down on your skin
It’s a proud day cause I see
all the heroes surrounding me
Redding strong we are wiser
oh the futures looking brighter
cause we know
and will make it any weather
Oh the city’s stronger now
And the rain is finally falling down
And we’re all a family
That’s the way things truly ought to be
It’s a proud day cause I see
All the heroes surrounding me
Releasing Healing to our land
We’ll build this town up
From the ground up
Hand in hand
What can happen when we embrace God’s plan in us as creatives? We can influence culture and become the world changers God intended. So, let’s get started.
Remember, you are born to create!