Six months after the wind-driven Boles Fire ravaged the small Northern California city of Weed, the community is showing signs of recovery.
"This is where our driveway was," said Sue Tavalero on a recent Tuesday as she and her husband, Scott, looked upon their empty lot on a beautiful bluff in the shadow of Mount Shasta, reflecting on the past six months. The Tavaleros' home of 20 years was one of 150 that were destroyed in the September 15th fire.
Scott, a Cal Fire Battalion Chief, was on duty that day and helped save the city's mill. The fire moved too quickly for firefighters to get ahead of it in the neighborhood where his home stood.
"By the time it came across and lit the trees on fire across the way, I came in, grabbed five pictures off the wall, grabbed my two dogs and jumped in the car and left," Sue Tavalero recalled. "Our house was probably gone within ten minutes."
Also demolished in the fire were some places of worship including Holy Family Catholic Church which stood strong on North Davis Avenue for nearly 80 years.
But the church, defined as a community of believers, is still very strong.
"Coming together in the name of the Lord, and celebrating their faith together, that is where the real church is," said Father Joshy Mathew as the six month anniversary of the fire approached.
With plans underway to rebuild the sanctuary where it once stood, the Holy Family congregation meets for daily mass inside a science classroom at the nearby College of the Siskiyous.
"I would say God is putting this community together," Fr. Mathew explained. "God is rebuilding us in different stages, not just as a structure and a church building. Also spiritually as a community."
"The community is building, we're reviving, we're renewing, we're restoring," added parishioner Margie Hayes.
Something similar could be said about the entire city. A Weed Long Term Recovery Group has formed, and meets regularly. Reconstruction has begun. Building permits are getting fast-tracked, according to some property owners. And many of the construction workers involved in the rebuilding efforts are residents of Weed.
"Well it's a small community," said Weed resident Glen Melberg of GM Concrete as he prepared to lay a foundation. "And most of us knew somebody that was effected by the fire."
Where insurance fell short, people pitched in.
"There's probably about six to eight semi truck loads of palliated goods that we don't know what to do with," remarked Kelsea Ochs, program director of the Family and Community Resource Center of Weed.
Ochs and her staff and volunteers have been connecting fire victims with the help that's available. The goal, according to Ochs, is to "keep them healthy and sustained, and get them back in a house that they can live in and feel comfortable."
While people have been generous, especially with the donated items, there is still a need for money to help uninsured and underinsured victims of the fire. The Shasta Regional Community Foundation is collecting those donations.
While six months do not erase the heartache of losing everything you own, Sue Tavalero says it does get easier.
"For the first month or so, it was hard. When you woke up in the middle of the night, you started thinking about things (that were lost). And now it's randomly."
What she misses most are her neighbors. There have been some hard goodbyes as some people have decided to sell their land and move away.
"One man said, 'I'm 88 years old; I don't have the time and the energy to rebuild my house,'" recalled Tavalero.
But many others, including the Tavaleros, are looking forward to rebuilding.
"You can tell that people are putting pride into rebuilding," observed Ochs. "And people are optimistic, and people are looking for that new Weed, let's say."
"We are in the hearts and prayers of so many people," said Fr. Mathew. "So God is blessing us. We are happy where we are at, and we have a long way to go."
"It's a good community," Sue Tavalero concluded. "And it made us stronger. You know, what doesn't kill you will make you stronger. And we all survived it."
Fire investigators determined the cause of the Boles Fire to be arson. Ronald Beau Marshall of Weed is in the Siskiyou County Jail awaiting trial for allegedly starting the fire.