POPLAR — Friday's devastating fire in the small community of Poplar took more than several businesses, homes, and vehicles.

“We didn't lose just the buildings but our dreams,” said Mari Perez-Ruiz, executive director of Central Valley Empowerment Alliance at the Larry Itliong Research Center in Poplar. “We allowed ourselves to cry for two days. We each cried alone, and together. After two days, we got up. It is time to clean. Time to start over. Now we are no longer alone. We are together. We will start over and we will rebuild. We will be persistent.”

Perez-Ruiz and Arturo Rodriquez, communications and organizing director of Central Valley Empowerment Alliance, are hoping the community will step in and help Poplar.

The duo met with a couple of business owners, Gregorio Rodriguez and Hector Cabrera on Friday morning to go over the damage and talk.

Since it was a Friday, a couple of the businesses had gone to the bank and had cash on hand to cash checks. It all burned, Perez-Ruiz said. And many of these small businesses didn't have insurance, she said, so it's a complete loss for them.

Gregorio Rodriguez said it wasn't fair that everything was lost due to a neglected tree.

“Edison came out and identified it was caused by the power line rubbing on the tree. It started the top of the tree on fire and it came down and burned everything,” Perez-Ruiz said.

It left destruction along its path as it took a bakery, a hair salon, a multipurpose room at the Larry Itliong Research Center, a mini mart which housed a taqueria eatery and a meat market, two mobile homes, a small house and a couple of vehicles. It also left at least 12 people displaced.

“It was not our fault. We were simply working and in half an hour we lost everything,” Gregorio Rodriguez said.

Perez-Ruiz said on two separate occasions, they sought action for the tree to be cut or trimmed.

“We couldn't do it. We were not allowed to because of the power lines,” she said. “Waste Management even said they could no longer pick up our trash until that tree was trimmed. The fire came down the tree and melted the fence,” Perez-Ruiz said. “This can happen again. It didn't need to happen. It was a careless act. It had already caused other damage. Transmitters burned and started little fires. Our community had called and said they were worried about the wires burning.”

Ninety-five percent of Poplar's general plan to bring everything up to code, is the same as it was 30 years ago, said Arturo Rodriguez.

“The adjuster is coming later today,” said Arturo Rodriguez. “Then we start the cleaning process.”

Perez-Ruiz and Arturo Rodriguez said they were already concerned about a recent home fire and had started the process of writing a grant to get a fire department in Poplar.

“It took 30 minutes for the fire trucks to arrive, and then they still had to get dressed,” Perez-Ruiz said. Arturo Rodriguez said much is needed in the community, including a fire department, an ambulance, and a Sheriff's office.

But in the meantime, they need some immediate help and are hoping the community will step up and help by donating to a “Go Fund Me” which was set up to help those directly affected by the fire.

They're also asking for gift cards to stores such as Target and Walmart.

The Red Cross was only able to help with a couple of nights stays at hotels and offered each family a $500 gift card but so much more is needed, Perez-Ruiz said.

“When you lose everything except the clothes on your back, you need so much. They need clothes, they need hygiene products,” she said. “Some lost everything.”

And they also need to borrow a C-train container to temporarily store items.

The garage which served as a multi purpose room of storage will be dismantled by professionals but the sweeping and clean up will be by volunteers.

“We lost a lot of inventory. We had done lots of soliciting and had $100,000 worth of clothes from Forever 21 to give to the kids for Back-to-School,” said Perez-Ruiz.

Other lost items included their forklifts and dollies, their event sound system, sewing machines they used with a youth sewing program, six new Quincenera dresses, toys for Christmas, diapers, food and a lot of bottled water which was for those using the Center which was designated as a Cooling Center in Poplar. And food. Each week the center provided food for 350-400 families.

“This was the service district not only for Poplar but providing services to a wider area. It's been shocking. This was supposed to be a happy event. We had music playing. And people should have walked away happy,” said Perez-Ruiz. “We had 400 backpacks filled with school supplies for back-to-school. We had four to five new outfits for every kid. The teens were excited. We had 75 of them in line already. They were waiting on the vaccines and the COVID-19 vaccines had just arrived.”

But because they had not unloaded the vaccines, all but one box were salvaged.

For now, Central Valley Empowerment Alliance had already contacted Street Medicine — a group of 12 physicians who will also have mental health workers with them on Friday morning.

A gofundme page has been set up at https://gofund.me/f41bc22f by Nicole Wynd for the Poplar fire.

To donate, one can drop off cash or gift cards at the Larry Itliong Research Center, 14665 Road 192 in Poplar. Or to donate the use of a C-train or other items, call 559-854-7251 or Arturo Rodriguez, 916-620-5052.

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