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As Dixie Fire threatens more homes and businesses, evacuees look for aid

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Posted at 2:50 PM, Aug 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-09 22:39:13-04

The town of Westwood, California, is just east of Lake Almanor in Lassen County. It's about 20 miles north of Greenville, a town that was leveled by the Dixie fire.

The small lumber town, population 1,645, is one of the communities directly threatened by the massively growing blaze.

Cecilia and Chris Allin, Westwood residents, are staying in Santa Maria. The Allins lost their home this summer in a separate fire, days before the Dixie Fire.

They are the owners of Blue Ox Coffee, a coffee shop and bakery in Westwood.

Cecilia Allin said the coffee shop lost power on Aug. 2.

Blue Ox Coffee reopened when power came back five days later, but by Saturday, mandatory evacuations forced them to leave.

"It's very apocalyptic," Cecilia said. "You can't see the moon. You can't see the sun. It's completely red."

The Dixie Fire is the second largest wildfire in state history, growing to 489,287 acres by Monday morning.

"Westwood is completely surrounded by fire right now," Cecilia said.

From their coffee shop, the Allins had been making meals for seniors. Cecilia says they stayed in Westwood as long as they could before they had to leave.

"We offered a lot of help to our first responders, our firefighters, our EMT's, the railroad workers that were there to try and help," Cecilia said.

But the Allins haven't been able to find help. Since evacuating the town, they have been without financial assistance.

"We came here expecting that we could apply for unemployment," Cecilia said, "some kind of assistance to cover the business bills that we have."

She said that normally, loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, under a disaster grant, would be available. But that doesn't seem to be the case, she says.

"What we found is that even though California has declared it a disaster, they have not made the request from the president to declare it a major disaster," Cecilia said.

She says the state has requested fire assistance to fight the Dixie Fire, but as of yet, there is no federal financial aid for individuals and business owners.

"We're just kind of in a holding pattern. We're waiting to see what happens with Gov. Newsom and what he requests," Cecilia said. "We're hoping that we can get back and start our business up again."

Cecilia, a teacher who has taught at Westwood High School for five years, described the coffee shop as a community center.

It's located in a building owned by the high school. One of the goals of the coffee shop was to support students by offering free wifi.

The shop is filled with student artwork. The tables and napkin holders were made by students in the school's woodworking class.

On Monday, the school announced that it will postpone the first day of school until two weeks after evacuation orders are lifted.

As the fire continues to expand, it's hard to know when that will be.