The flames burned so hot that they melted aluminum canoes into silver puddles of metal, rendered camping gear unrecognizable and warped Dutch ovens.

The Tubbs Fire, which burned for more than three weeks in October 2017 in Northern California, destroyed 5,643 structures and killed 22 people.

Among the fire’s less-publicized victims: Troop 707 of Santa Rosa, Calif., part of the Redwood Empire Council.

Six Troop 707 families, including the Scoutmaster’s family, lost their homes. As luck would have it, all of Troop 707’s camping gear was stored at three homes that were completely burned.

The troop lost its trailer, canoes, canoe trailer, camping stoves, Dutch ovens and camping supplies. This is gear acquired over years and years, and it was gone in one roaring blaze. How many delicious meals were prepared in those Dutch ovens? How many miles had Scouts paddled in those canoes?

This story really got me thinking about how I’d feel if all of my troop’s gear had been wiped away in a natural disaster. No Scout should have to go through that.

Fortunately, this story has a positive outcome. When other troops learned what happened to Troop 707, they stepped up, donating supplies and money to the cause. Troop 707 plans to pay this Good Turn forward. They’ll be frugal when buying replacement gear and will donate what’s left to help less-fortunate Scouts.

Left: Troop 707’s trailer in summer 2017. Right: The trailer after the October 2017 fire.

An emergency meeting

The day after the initial firestorm, with the blaze still raging, Troop 707 Senior Patrol Leader Sam Chatfield and Assistant Senior Patrol Leader Bradley Benzce called an emergency meeting of the patrol leaders’ council.

They invited other troops within the Redwood Empire Council that had lost gear.

Soon the council got involved, helping the troops recover what was lost. The council replaced many uniforms for free and offered Scout Shop gift cards to help Scouts buy replacement gear.

Kindness from strangers

Northern California troops that were spared during the Tubbs Fire stepped up to help Troop 707.

Troop 237 of Orinda donated more than $3,000 and a truckload of new and gently used gear. Troop 200 of Lafayette sent $2,500. Troop 135 of Santa Rosa donated four canoes.

Within a few weeks, troops from different states and backgrounds donated enough to replace all of Troop 707’s equipment.

In all, Troop 707 received $14,500 in cash donations and another $5,000 in gear.

Paying it forward

The Scouts and parents of Troop 237 visited in person. The leaders felt the Scouts would benefit from seeing the devastation firsthand.

“You could tell that seeing the actual remains of the trailers and driving through the neighborhood gave them a much better understanding of the fire and its impact on the community,” said Robert Erlach, assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 707. 

Now that Troop 707 is back on its feet, the Scouts plan to shift from Good Turn recipient to Good Turn provider.

“We will be thrifty replacing our gear and expect to have funds left over,” Erlach said. “We plan to pay them forward to the World Friendship Fund so that other Scouts, who perhaps never had much equipment to start with, can benefit from the overflow of generosity that Scouting has shown us.”

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