Christmas Trees to benefit North Bay wildfire victims

SANTA ROSA (KTVU) -- A program being offered through a dozen local nurseries and tree farms will help the victims of recent wildfires that have left scorched lands throughout the North Bay.

Chris Hurley and Kathy Blair are the two sisters who are behind the effort, which allows customers to purchase live Christmas trees and return them after the holiday so they can be planted in the yard of a fire victim.

"I think it's inspirational and a great service and I honor the ladies who put it together," customer Linda Price said while shopping at Prickett's Nursery in Santa Rosa.

Price bought a 1-foot fir seedling, a tiny tree she planned to decorate with a strand of lights and some ornaments.

"Hopefully it will grow, and thrive and bring joy to somebody else later," she added.

Blair lives in Cobb, hard-hit by the 2015 Valley Fire, and was brainstorming for ways to encourage a friend, who lost her home, to rebuild.

"Kathy figured she could buy a Christmas tree and give it to her friend, to plant in her yard, and that's where the whole idea began," Hurley said.

The idea caught on much faster than they expected.

"Last year, we had almost 900 trees donated and that was absolutely a surprise," Hurley said.

Customers who buy the trees bring them back to the nursery in January, which will then be bundled and added to a caravan of trees to the burn zones.

Fire victims are then able to pick two or three trees to restore greenery to their yards.

Last year, trees went to victims of the Valley Fire. This season, victims of the more recent Clayton Fire, in Lower Lake, will be included in the program.

"It's such a small thing to do from our end," Hurley said. "But it brought so much joy and it gave people hope and someplace to start with their rebuilding.

Not everyone has the space or the strength to buy a big potted tree. So some supporters buy one and immediately donate it, leaving it at the nursery until it's transported.

"The devastation there was just overwhelming," said Denise Baxter, manager of the Prickett's store.

"Any bit of green that we can give back is somebody's ray of sunshine (and) somebody's shade on a sunny day," Baxter said. "We're excited to help."

Some shoppers will opt to buy a tree to donate and then purchase another traditional, cut tree to take home.

"You feel so helpless for the fire victims and what they've gone through and suffered,'" said Urmi Shende, who donated a tree. "So you do whatever you can do to bring some of that natural beauty back."

The project has a Facebook page, "Lake County Gifting a Tree Project" with information about donating, even for supporters who can't get to the North Bay.  Click here for more info.

By KTVU reporter Debora Villalon.