Credit: LMNOP Team

As this October marked two years since the Dixie Fire was declared contained, we remember the second-largest wildfire in California’s history. The Dixie Fire started on July 13, 2021 when power lines owned by Pacific Gas and Electric came into contact with a tree, and it continued on to burn 963,309 acres across five counties in Northern California, devastating communities as it destroyed homes, businesses and everything in its path. The fire was active for 104 long days before it was finally contained on October 25, 2021.
We sat down with three people who today are supporting the rebuilding and recovery efforts in Greenville—a community which was completely destroyed by the fire. Read their stories below.
Build It Green is partnering with these individuals and other community leaders through the Dixie Fire Collaborative, Almanor Foundation, and more, to support rebuilding Greenville. You can learn more about that collaboration here.
Jane Braxton Little, independent journalist covering science and the environment; she’s now specifically focused on fire and wildfires. Jane is involved with the Dixie Fire Collaborative as a volunteer and victim.
Jane Braxton has worked as a journalist since 1978. She lost 40 years of her professional journalism files and photos in the fire when her Greenville office burned, and she heartbreakingly watched her friends and neighbors lose their homes and everything that they owned. When we asked Jane about what home is, she shared, “At the most literal level, I’m talking about the walls around you and the roof over your head…More broadly, home is community.” 
Now Jane is committed to rebuilding Greenville as part of the Dixie Collaborative which meets every other week and is working with 10 architectural interns who were in Greenville this summer developing models of what a rebuilt downtown could look like. Jane says it’s wonderful to see three dimensional models of the possibilities for Greenville, and she hopes they inspire both business owners and homeowners as they think about what they want in their new community. 
“This tragic disaster gave us an opportunity to build back better in terms of energy sources and fire resilient buildings and in terms of incorporating the communities’ needs in ways that we hadn’t anticipated. We’re a gold rush town with a lot of old buildings; the building my office was in was one of the oldest buildings in town,” Jane shared. 
As a science and natural resource writer, Jane is not new to climate-related disasters and wildfire, but she remains optimistic. And she believes that, when it comes to climate-related reporting, we have to do a better job of sharing hopeful news and potential bright spots. She’s always hopeful about rebuilding and seeing the opportunity to create things that are better and stronger, especially in Greenville where she really believes that, while it’s ambitious, they have the chance to be one of the most sustainable communities in the world. 
Jane and her neighbors lost their community overnight. But even through the tragedy, she reminds us that fire is an essential component of the forest—as essential as sunshine and rain. Forests need fires for rejuvenation, and we can’t have resilient forests without fire. She believes there is a lot we can learn from Indigenous Communities and their fire management practices. 
According to Axios, 86 percent of wildfires in California between 1992 and 2020 were caused by human activity – and that’s where Jane thinks we can and must make a lot of progress. “If humans are causing them, we can stop them, too.”
We have a chance now to think carefully about what we want. We have a chance to become the most sustainable community in the world.”
Judy Chynoweth, Plumas county resident, board of the Almanor Foundation
Judy is a resident of Chester where she appreciates the closeness of rural communities and the fact that you’re always seeing each other at the one grocery store or the post office, since Chester doesn’t have mail delivery service. That closeness became more important than Plumas County residents could have realized after the Dixie Fire. 
Judy was extremely fortunate that her home didn’t burn in the Dixie Fire. She shared the survivor’s guilt that she and many Chester residents feel even now when they leave Chester and enter the burn scar around Greenville. Many of her long-time friends lost their homes in Greenville and she’s seen firsthand their collective and on-going trauma. “The burn scar is all around us,” she says.
For months after the fire, every conversation was, “‘Where were you evacuated? How long did you stay? How often did you have to move, and what was it like? The whole experience was a common experience for the town.“ And even as this October marks the two year anniversary of the fire being contained, the trauma—and at times anger—is still present. 
Judy is also the board chair of the Almanor Foundation.  In the aftermath of the Dixie Fire, the Almanor Foundation was fortunate to receive donations and support from the North Valley Community Foundation (NVCF) who had community rebuilding experience after the Camp Fire of 2018—California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire. 
With NVCF’s support, as well as donations from individuals and businesses, the Almanor Foundation has been able to grow and learn how to think about the challenges and support the rebuilding efforts in Greenville. Their goal is to work collaboratively with the nonprofit, government, philanthropic and private sectors to accelerate recovery and rebuilding to create a thriving, resilient and even stronger region, especially for the most vulnerable community members. 
Judy acknowledges that reaching consensus on what the new community should look like is challenging because, “There are so many things to think about…There’s economic development and a focus on business. There’s a focus on physical rebuilding. There’s a focus on a community.” But she and so many others see the opportunity to change and grow and create something new in Greenville that works even better than what was before.  Even on the hard days, Judy shares “We have to maintain momentum. We can’t afford to stall.” What gives her hope is the strength of her fellow community members and their connections to and care for one another.
Odin Zackman, founder and principal of Dig In which is supporting Build It Green with on-the-ground rebuilding efforts in Greenville
Odin often finds himself partnering with communities in the aftermath of processing and recovering from climate-related disasters. And he spends a lot of time thinking about how we rebuild, especially in communities that have experienced trauma. The two practices that guide his work are centering empathy and listening first to understand. 
“We’re still in a system that makes us do and figure out a lot of things on our own,” Odin shares. This system often leaves people feeling after disasters that they are on their own. Odin’s work is about trying to reorient that approach on many different levels, to a more empathetic framework where we can really care for each other and meet people where they are—especially after a disaster. 
It’s horrific to lose your home, property and livelihood. Each neighborhood and community is different—there are different forces at play, with unique needs and desires of the community. But at the heart of this is grief, trauma and tremendous loss. We can’t just be thinking “I’m going to build you a modular home and then you will be okay,” says Odin. There’s a dimensionality and complexity of support needed – from financial, material, psychological, spiritual, and much more. 
Odin says that the grief and response that follows losing your home or community is often similar to the grief and response that comes when you lose a parent or partner. There’s often an initial rush from family and community, but there’s still a need for long-term support after that initial wave. Similarly, he hopes that we can find a sense of consistency, regular encouragement and support in community rebuilding efforts so that the rebuilding can happen and there is continued care along the way as people process and grieve. 
There’s a lot of opportunity to think about how we rebuild. Odin says, “It starts with reconsidering design, building materials, and where we choose to build. Wildfire recovery especially means rebuilding in a way that doesn’t repeat the same mistakes that were made in the first place.”
Finally, Odin shared, “If we’re going to build healthier, more resilient communities, we need healthier, more resilient and regenerative approaches that see things as living, breathing, interconnected systems.” It requires us to reorient the way we think about how we build, what we build, how we’re interacting with each other, and how people are supported, he says. With this shift, true care and stewardship of ourselves, our communities and our landscapes and larger places is possible.
Finding Resiliency and Strength in the Aftermath
As climate change continues, wildfires will be part of our lives and reality in California. We can make changes to prevent fires, and we can learn from communities like Greenville about ways to rebuild our homes and communities differently— with more climate resilience, adaptability, safeguards and community supports in place. Build It Green is committed to continuing our rebuilding work in Greenville and to sharing out the lessons learned for communities across California. We hope the strength and determination from the people of Greenville inspires you to think about your home and community differently.

Build It Green champions regenerative community development as an approach that enables community changemakers to see interwoven issues holistically and dynamically, and to reveal and act on the potential of a place so that both human and natural systems are stronger, more resilient, and more adaptable going forward than they are today. Learn more about our regenerative communities initiative here.

Alex Coba

Communications Associate

As a proud California native from Stockton, Alex brings a wealth of experience and a versatile skill set. He has a solid communication background with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Chico. Alex is adept at strategic communications and media relations, with experience gathering and sharing stories from his local communities that uplift the unique spirit and values of those places. He is excited to join Build It Green, where he can apply his talents to further BIG’s mission to help communities across California thrive.