‘There is nothing left but ash and metal’ : Sierra Streams Institute loses laboratory, office in Jones Fire

Sierra Streams Institute, whose laboratory and office space was located in Madrone Hall on the Sierra Friends Center campus, lost it all as the entire building was burned in the Jones Fire.

Sierra Streams Institute is an environmental nonprofit, and they employ 12 scientists — with varied specializations in hydrology, biology, and chemistry — in their work on protecting local watersheds. The institute also hosts educational opportunities for the community.

“There is nothing left but ash and metal. Our storage shed that was next to our building was also completely destroyed, and we had a lot of specialized and expensive equipment,” said Joanne Hild, executive director of Sierra Streams Institute.

The Jones Fire destroyed 21 buildings, many of them homes, Cal Fire has said.

According to Hild, while they have some insurance coverage, they are concerned about of their upcoming claim. She said one issue that may arise is the need for documentation, including receipts, much of which was lost in the fire along with the equipment. Another potential challenge is that some of the equipment has been with the institute for its entire 24-year history. Even if they received the equipment’s current value from their insurer, this will likely not be enough to cover the cost of new replacements.

Nancy Fleming, board president at Sierra Streams Institute, said, “There is a lot of expensive technical equipment that goes into water monitoring: reading oxygen levels, the pH of the water, and things like that.” She said the institute had equipment it used to monitor conditions at Deer Creek and other local watersheds, as well as wildlife monitoring equipment.

According to Hild, the institute had just made a copy of its data archives six months ago, minimizing the amount of information lost in the fire. “Without that data, this would be even more devastating. We can replace equipment and buildings, but the data is something that is precious, and luckily we have most of it. We did lose some,” she said.

Fleming emphasized the importance of the work the institute does, saying it is especially vital during a fire season.

“The kind of work we do is very related to the Jones Fire, and we need to get out there on-site immediately with our monitoring to evaluate the impacts of the fire, the changes, and data in order to understand restoration needs — but, we’re not going to be able to do that until we have the equipment,” said Fleming.

She said institute staff were motivated to reach out for support after receiving calls from members of the community — some offering temporary office space, laboratory space, and financial help — directly following the fire.

Hild has set up a GoFundMe page, which can be found at: www.gofundme.com/f/sierra-streams-institute-jones-fire-recovery.

In an email Thursday, Fleming wrote, “We don’t yet know what our future is. The staff and board will be preparing a recovery plan to make those determinations. That will take some time, but we will survive.”

Victoria Penate is a staff writer with . She can be reached at [email protected]

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