Miracle City helps restore families’ lives after Camp Fire tragedy


The fire evacuees had the option to go to a support group led by a preacher to help restore their faith after losing everything from the fire.

I’m just an ordinary guy that was moved just like you, to be here. I stepped out into the community to connect, comfort, encourage and help

— Dennis McCourt

Volunteers outside the Butte County area are coming together to make a difference after the Nov. 8 Camp Fire destroyed surrounding areas. As dreadful as the Camp Fire was, however, volunteers outside of this small county are coming together to make a difference by donating supplies and volunteering their time and energy for those in need.


From Yosemite, Dennis McCourt wanted to

help make a difference in the community affected by the fire. He transformed an abandoned Toys “R” Us in Chico into what is now known as “Miracle City.” Miracle City organizes volunteers and collects donations for the Camp Fire victims from all over the place, providing free groceries, clothing and other necessities to individuals and families who were displaced by the fire and lost everything.


“I’m just an ordinary guy that was moved just like you, to be here. I stepped out into the community to connect, comfort, encourage and help,” McCourt said.


McCourt was attending a conference in the Chico area when the fire broke out and quickly decided he needed to do something to help. After talking with some local connections, he learned of the empty building near one of the evacua

tion centers. He teamed up with a lawyer and secured a lease on the building, obtained insurance and quickly set about transforming the former toy store into a central warehouse for collecting, organizing, and distributing donations. Now three weeks after the fire broke out, with evacuees still camping out in vacant lots and churches nearby, the Miracle City facility continues to grow, fueled by volunteers and a constant stream of donations.


The fire destroyed many homes and affected the lives of so many people in Butte County, but that didn’t stop Kasey Gibbs, the man currently in charge of operations at Miracle City. Gibbs explained how he came to be in this position after losing his own home and almost losing his wife trying to escape the fire when it ravaged his small town of Magalia, just outside of Paradise.


“My wife and I were burned from out of our home. She was caught in her car trying to flee the flames, but she managed to escape. I didn’t have any place to go when the fire came at 2 a.m. My wife and I [ended up] in YWAM [Youth With A Mission], so I came down here to help,” Gibbs said.


Local churches and youth groups assisting people displaced by the fire, including Gibbs, were looking for more ways to volunteer.  They found their way to Miracle City — and Gibbs joined in.


Being a victim of this treacherous fire was terrifying for him, especially when he reflects on how many people lost their lives in the fire. He was grateful for the help he received during this terrifying time, and he wanted to give back. He knew he needed to help somehow, and he found an opportunity at this newly-formed donations center. During a recent interview, Gibbs exclaimed how becoming the operations manager of Miracle City was something he was meant to do.


“I said to them, ‘You know I’m here, I have the skill set’ and they said to come with me to this meeting, and I told them I have experience. I walked away from my part time job and I became the operations manager,” Gibbs said.


The donations provided at Miracle City come entirely from spreading the word on social media and from people distributing the news by word of mouth.  But it has worked. According to Gibbs, this is the reason why Miracle City has seen such exponential growth.


“This is a steadily changing organic thing. This is not governmental … this is a combination of resources from people and the county,” Gibbs said.


One volunteer, known as Rachel Vaney, came to help out and shared her story of how she decided to spend her time helping the victims of the fire. Vaney said she has been volunteering since Nov. 21, and she hoped to continue to do so.


“I didn’t want to spend another week watching Netflix,” she said. “I’m still figuring out my purpose. Once I saw the volunteer opportunity at Toys “R” Us, for whatever reason I felt so compelled to  come out here to see what it was all about. Just the energy, I was struck by the energy, beautiful energy. Coming in unknown they said I was going to be trained to help out. If this could be my [full time] job, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Vaney said.


In Miracle City, volunteers find ways to help both large and small: There is a support group where victims can get prayers and words of encouragement by local pastors; volunteers help stock shelves and organize all of the donations that come in; help check in people and help them find whatever they need; help check out people and maintain careful records; and most importantly, comfort those who are overwhelmed after losing their homes — including single mothers with their little kids.  Sometimes all it takes is helping a mother to shop by holding her small child, and helping that child who hasn’t smiled in weeks find a new stuffed animal that magically brings back that smile, and maybe a little much-needed comfort, as they do their best to get by until things slowly get back to normal. Seeing the victims recognize that they are not alone while everyone is encouraging them that other people are there to help, is what truly makes this the Miracle City.


Shelves constantly need to be stocked, and any donations help.  To volunteer, just walk in and ask what needs to be done to help.  Hours are from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. in the former Toys “R” Us at 1919 E 20th Street in Chico.