BAKERSFIELD, CA - We thank you Kern County. For the third time in a month, we've asked and you responded in a big way to our latest fundraiser.
On Wednesday, county firefighters collected money for the families of 19 firefighters killed in Prescott, Arizona. They weren't expecting to raise so much, but as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, more than $61,000 was raised!
Many helped fill the boots. From kind kids to adults heading to work.. taking the time to open their hearts to the families left behind by 19 members of an elite hotshot group.
"But, you have to admit, they paid the ultimate price," said Rod Bethell, who made a donation. "Nineteen? Geez. So many in one shot. I can't say anymore. It's tragic."
At 5 a.m. Wednesday, Kern County firefighters raised a large American flag and started raising money. It was the idea of Matt Imbelloni, a former hotshot and current engineer with the Kern County Fire Department.
"We've had a couple $1,000 checks come in. People drop by $200 to $300 at a time. And, everyone is giving us everything they can," said Imbelloni.
The Granite Mountain Hotshot group lost June 30th, had fought fires in California and New Mexico and helped out in other natural disasters.
"Its wherever there is a problem and you need an organized group of people, they go," said Imbelloni.
The 19 men killed leave behind eleven children, ten wives, three fiancees, and some had babies on the way.
Kimberlee Sheets came from Tehachapi. She's close to Desiree Phillips, also from Tehachapi, who is now a widow and single mother. Her husband Jesse Steed, was one of the men lost.
"That Bakersfield supports her, that Tehachapi supports her and that we miss her," said Sheets crying. "But, all of the families are bleeding inside. They are just dying."
While the fallen hotshots' shoes can't be filled, the Kern County firefighters' boots can. It's a way Kern County's condolences and compassion will comfort from hundreds of miles away.
"I think they'd be glad that we are trying to take care of their families," said Imbelloni holding back tears.
The Tehachapi hand crew will hold a similar fill-the-boot fundraiser this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will be near the intersection of 202 and Valley Boulevard.
Or you can make a donation online by clicking on the following link: http://www.100club.org/web/100club/Getinvolved/fund.aspx