POPLAR, Calif. (KSEE)- A rural Tulare County community was still picking up the pieces Thursday after a fire tore through its main business hub last week destroying buildings and displacing a dozen people.
Mari Perez-Ruiz the executive director and co-founder of Central Valley Empowerment Alliance said the area was the center of activity for the small town of Poplar.
It was made up of three businesses as well as housing for several people.
She said last Friday hundreds were gathered along side radio stations and food vendors for a youth vaccination and back-to-school give away.
“The intention was to have youth be dressed, have whatever they need to start and feel good about themselves from day one,” Perez-Ruiz said.
She said volunteers had collected 400 backpacks stocked with school supplies and Forever 21 had donated $100,000 worth of clothing.
She said the event was over just minutes before it was scheduled to start at 3 p.m. when a power line ignited a tree and it quickly spread to the row of businesses and two trailers.
“A lot of folks lost everything. A lot of folks lost everything,” Perez-Ruiz said crying in a Facebook live right after the fire.
“In the morning I wake up and I think maybe it’s a nightmare. But no, it’s true,” Gregorio Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez fought to be a business owner and finally got his own bakery two years ago.
“I work for 10 years, and save my money for my bakery and all is gone, all is gone in 30 minutes,” he said.
Anes Muthana owns the building and lived in one of the burned trailers. He also ran the attached grocery store which has been a family business for 50 years.
Muthana is known for helping anyone who could not afford food and is described as a man who cares deeply for his community.
“It is not the only store you know. It is like I said, it is a life you know? So over here in this community, I know everybody it’s like family you know? It’s more than a store,” Muthana said.
Because of a lapse in insurance coverage, Muthana just found out he’s not insured. There is no estimate on monetary damages yet but the loss to the community is very steep.
“We are feeling the pain collectively, and we’re trying to rise together and we are going to be rebuilding,” Perez-Ruiz said.
She said they want to be moving toward rebuilding within a year, but estimates the cleanup alone in the tens of thousands.
She said they’re hoping for a trailer donation or to raise funds to rent some so all the dozen people who have been displaced can have a roof over their heads. Right now Perez -Ruiz said three people are living in a car. Anyone who wants to help can donate through this GoFundMe:
Donations can also be made through the Central Valley Empowerment Alliance at: