Thousands raised for San Jose firefighters who lost Paradise homes
San Jose firefighters take a break from fighting the deadly paradise blaze (courtesy of San Jose Fire Department)

Retired San Jose Fire Captain Jeff Shackelford devoted 25 years to battling deadly blazes — then he lost his home in the most destructive wildfire in California history.

Shackelford, 88, who’s battling dementia, lost his home in the devastating Camp Fire which charred about 164,000 acres. Shackelford now lives in a memory care facility. But the South Bay community stepped up to help Shackelford and other San Jose firefighters who lost their homes in the blaze.

A GoFundMe page created by IAFF Local 230 President Sean Kaldor requested $15,000 to help the retired firemen. It raised nearly $35,000 in less than a month. Kaldor said that while fighting the recent fires, firefighters notified the union that the homes of fellow firefighters had been destroyed.

Retired San Jose firefighter Jeff Shackelford, who suffers from dementia, lost his home in the Paradise fire (courtesy of Association of Retired San Jose Police Officers & Firefighters)

“They’ve spent their careers helping others, and now that they are the ones in need, we immediately knew we had to do something special to help them,” Kaldor said. “There is no way we can make up for all they lost, but we are extremely thankful for everyone’s support to help our firefighters make ends meet as they work through putting their lives back together.”

Shackelford served with the San Jose Fire Department from 1959 to 1984. His daughter Jeri Valdez also lost her home in the disastrous fire — she lived next door to her parents in Paradise. Both homes were destroyed. Valdez lost her mother three weeks after her father was moved to a memory care facility in September, she said.

“Right now my father is still in that care home because it’s difficult for me to take care of him in the circumstances now because we both lost our homes,” said Valdez. “I’m taking care of moving the debris on both our properties and that’s been stressful.”

The home Valdez lost had belonged to her grandparents. She lamented not just the loss of the home, but the loss of family history and sentimental items as well. She recalled becoming trapped several times while trying to leave the city during the blaze and watching her neighbors’ homes burn to the ground.

“I just think of little things like the little turkey handprint the kids made…you think about how you didn’t get things, but you aren’t thinking about how everything’s going to be gone because you’re running for your life,” said Valdez. While she emphasized that she “is not looking for handouts” Valdez said she’s touched by the donations and support from the community.

The campaign, created Dec. 13 has garnered donations from 184 people and will continue through March.

Walter Bugna, Board Member of the Association of Retired San Jose Police Officers and Firefighters, approached Kaldor with the idea of creating a GoFundMe page after hearing stories of San Jose firefighters with damaged properties in the Camp Fire.

“I had never done a GoFundMe and I called Sean Kaldor,” said Bugna. “I said I was in the dark. He put it together in an hour and I sent him more information about these individuals. The rest is history.”

The fundraiser also supported retired firefighter Larry Cantrell whose home was destroyed in Paradise. Cantrell, who retired in 1994, could not be reached.

Bugna credited the widespread support to social media.

He added that many other retired and current firefighters who lost property in the Camp Fire said they would be reimbursed by insurance and didn’t need the money. He said that funds would go towards repair expenses for firefighters whose properties were damaged and helping the families of two retired firefighters that had lost their homes.

The GoFundMe page has many comments, but one from a donor named Bob Vermillion succinctly captures the essence of many of them: “They served their community well. It is the least we can do.”

Click here to donate to the campaign.

Follow Victoria Kezra @VictoriaKezra on Twitter.

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