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College of Humanities & Fine Arts

One Year After the Camp Fire, a Discussion with Susan Dobra, Department of Philosophy

“We spent our time preparing for embers--blowing the pine needles off the roof, raking the leaves away from the house, putting the propane tanks in the driveway,” Susan Dobra said, “A week later, we found out our house had burned, the Center for Spiritual Living was in ashes, the whole neighborhood was rubble--but somehow, miraculously, our car and truck were OK! Amazing grace.”

In November 2018, Paradise experienced one of the most destructive fires in California. Paradise is a city 15 miles east of Chico, where many Chico State students and faculty members commuted from. One of those members happened to be Susan Dobra, a part-time instructor and activist of a couple of movements.

When asked about the most precious things Dobra and her family lost in the fires, Dobra responded with her grandmother’s engagement ring, photos of people long passed and handmade pottery. Although losing such sentimental and irreplaceable valuables, Dobra had something extremely sweet done for her. “I also mentioned to someone that I was sorry to lose a signed print of Julia Butterfly, the famous environmentalist who sat in a redwood tree for two years to save an old-growth redwood grove. He contacted her through a friend and told her that, and she showed up here in Chico this past week with a new signed print, framed in salvaged redwood!!” Dobra said, “Amazing things like that have been happening all year--but that was one of the best!!”

You will never completely get over a tragedy like this, but you can always try to see the positive side of situations. Dobra says attending trauma workshops/counseling groups, staying close to her Paradise Community Guilds friends and her Buddist sangha have all helped her try to process the aftermath of everything that has happened. “Mostly, I've let myself cry when it comes over me to cry, and I've reached out to help people who weren't as lucky as me--didn't have as many friends to step up and help or didn't have other resources or insurance, like we did,” Dobra said “Reaching out to help other people helped me heal.”

Fast forward one year later and Dobra and her family are doing well. They have been surrounded by an amazing amount of support from friends and the community here in Chico. People have given them everything they needed from clothes/shoes to a place to live, massages and a whole lot of love and compassion. “Chico is an amazing community, and they proved it in the past year. So we feel very nurtured and ready to face the uncertainty of the future with as much grace as we can muster.” Dobra said. “Our spiritual practice helps too. Sometimes it's still hard to think about our beautiful house and all the cool things we lost. But I've been saying this is the Buddhist midterm, to practice nonattachment. It's not the final, it's just the midterm.” Being able to explain what you went through when you have lost everything and still being able to remain positive is something I hope that everyone can do.

As previously mentioned, Susan Dobra is also an activist. Prior to the fire, her activism focused primarily on homelessness and open mics. She was extremely active in Paradise with SHOR (Sojourner's House on the Ridge, the homeless services organization) and a group called Housing in Paradise that was trying to provide affordable, supported housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. “Now, though, the Camp Fire has brought home to me that the climate crisis is not just some distant thing on the horizon but HERE, NOW. It burned down my home and my town. So I'm doing everything I can to connect the dots for people, make them understand that we have to change everything we do to turn this around or more towns will burn and more people will suffer.” Dobra states. Because of this, Dobra has been a part of a group called Climate Uprising that networks with all the other environmental groups in town such as 350 Butte, the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, Butte Environmental Council, to make people aware that we need to face this at all levels--from the personal to the global. “We need to pass the Green New Deal, we need to change our behaviors. It's the most important issue ever to face humanity. I know that now, and I'm dedicating my activism to educating and awakening as many others as I can.”

-- Story by Delila Solomon, PR Intern, College of Humanities and Fine Arts