Finding heat in winter’s cold after the Carlton Complex Fire - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Finding heat in winter’s cold after the Carlton Complex Fire

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OKANOGAN COUNTY, Wash. - Like so many others, Gail Johnson lost everything when the Carlton Complex Fire blew through Okanogan County. As winter hits Eastern Washington, she's fighting to keep her family warm.

“You just grit your teeth and do what you have to do,” Johnson said.

The mother of four is really a mother to many. She took in troubled children for years and raised them as her own.

“At one time we had 18 people living in my house,” she said. “My doors were always open if they needed a place to stay. I guess the homeless shelter is closed.”

Johnson was born in that home. She's lived there all her life.

“I couldn't bare to look at it,” she said. “It's not right. It's not what was supposed to be.”

Johnson still takes care of two of her boys. The three have been living on the property in a couple of poorly insulated trailers that were donated to keep the family safe. They have little electricity, and Johnson can't pay a heating bill on the eight hours she works each week as a cashier in town. 

“I just want to quit but I can't,” she said. “I've got the kids.”

They huddle for warmth when the weather gets too cold, sleeping together in a bunk in one of the trailers. During the day, Johnson lights a fire in their outdoor pit using scrap wood she found in a dumpster. 

“If they're going to throw it away I can use it for heat,” she said.

But despite all her losses, Johnson will not leave her hometown. “I want to be here as long as I can,” she said. “I can't say it's my house anymore, but it's still my home.”

So, as she said, she'll grit her teeth and do what it takes to survive the winter cold. Still she can't help her emotion, wiping back tears as she discusses a new home.

“If I build another house it's going to be straw bale house, covered in cement,” she said. “It's not going to burn.”

If you'd like to help the ongoing recovery effort from the Carlton Complex Fire, you can do so from one of the links below.

To help Gail Johnson get a permit in her name so she can build a new home, CLICK HERE: http://www.gofundme.com/htcizc

To help the Okanogan Conservation District, CLICK HERE: http://www.okanogancd.org/Carlton

To donate to the Carlton Complex Assistance Network, CLICK HERE: http://www.ccanrelief.org/

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