In October and November of 2003, California suffered its worst wildfire season in 40 years. Extremely dry conditions, Santa Ana winds and a late-fall rainy season combined to devastate thousands of acres and hundreds of homes in San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Over 40 people lost their lives and hundreds of others lost everything else. Mistakenly believing that if they didn't have a loan against their home that they didn't need homeowners insurance, many senior citizens had no insurance at all.
Enter the Western Regional Mortgage Brokers Conference. At the 2003 WRMBC in Las Vegas, members voted to donate $25,000 to the California Association of Mortgage Brokers for distribution to fire victims in the affected areas. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Association of Mortgage Brokers stepped up and also committed $2,500 to CAMB.
CAMB 2003-2004 President Leon Huntting felt that CAMB should raise matching funds of $25,000 from within the CAMB Chapters to have a total of $50,000 or more to distribute to fire victims, and requested that I undertake that task as CAMB Community Services Committee Chair. In addition to raising the matching funds, I was also tasked with determining suitable charitable organizations that work hands-on, locally and directly with fire victims. It was of paramount importance to us that the funds go directly to local organizations working within the affected communities. Using the donated monies, CAMB established an account dedicated specifically to victims' relief called the Fire Victims Relief Fund.
On April 29, the first phase of our efforts came to fruition when I, Scott Gaffney from the WRMBC, and CAMB San Diego Chapter President Rory Cambra met representatives from four local charities at the headquarters of the Ramona Fire Relief Group, in the small town of Ramona in northern San Diego County. This is only three miles from the famous San Diego Wild Safari Park and it's chilling to think that hundreds of exotic animals were at risk, as well as the many people living in the area. In Ramona, we presented four checks in the amount of $7,500 each to the Julian, Ramona, Valley Center and East County fire relief organizations. We had a chance to spend quality time and see what services these groups are offering and the profiles of the people and families they are helping. We were shown notebooks filled with families who had registered for services, damages they suffered and the types of items they continue to need. Mundane items like furniture, house wares, kitchen items, bedding and tools were all in great demand.
We were told that only $18,000 was raised from the small town of Ramona and that those funds were exhausted. Then CAMB comes in, like the white knight, with a surprise $7,500, all in a lump sum, literally in the nick of time. The other three groups told us similar stories. It is very difficult to convey the feelings we had when we experienced the extreme gratitude of these folks.
After our meeting, we went on a tour of a local fire-damaged area, Mussey Grade Canyon. There we saw the burnt-out remains of homes and charred foundations, with their owners and prior residents living in recreational vehicles parked next to them--a truly disturbing sight. It wasn't hard to imagine the terror of the people fleeing the flash fire down the narrow two-lane, canyon road with huge propane tanks exploding and flames relentlessly pursuing them. It was like a horror film, except that it was as real as it gets.
At the end of the day, as we returned to San Diego Airport, we reflected on our good fortune and how we were able to make such a huge difference in people's lives. But then again, brokers do that on a regular basis, don't we?
We are currently working on phase two of the donations, reviewing needs in the Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino County areas, which are the other main regions of devastation in the October/November fires. When they ask you why you belong to CAMB or the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, now you have yet another reason to list.
George L. Duarte is the California Association of Mortgage Brokers Community Services Committee Chair, as well as president and co-owner of Fremont, Calif.-based Horizon Financial Associates. He can be reached by phone at (800) 956-6663 or e-mail at [email protected].