Poplar businesses, residents hope for quick recovery after destructive blaze

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A vaccination event for hundreds of children was just about to get started at the Larry Itliong Resource Center in Poplar last Friday when some pine trees behind the building caught fire.

"And then somebody yelled 'Fire,'" Central Valley Empowerment Alliance Director Mari Perez-Ruiz said. "I look and on top of the tree, I saw just like a fireball that just kind of went down and I thought, 'Ok, it's gone.' All of a sudden, it just spread to the ground, up to the other trees and it jumped to the rooftops."

Perez-Ruiz says the fire consumed thousands of dollars worth of clothes and backpacks they had planned to give away at the event.

Next door, Gregorio Rodriguez watched in horror as his bakery-his livelihood-burned.

"You (were) looking for help but we can't because the fire is big," Rodriguez said.

A hair salon and community market, which included a meat shop, were also destroyed in the blaze.

Perez-Ruiz says the buildings were not insured.

"Thirty minutes prior to the fire, they had just come from the bank and pulled out $100,000 to be able to cash those checks for the farmworkers," she said. "Everything burned. Everything burned."

Several homes were also destroyed or damaged, and Perez-Ruiz says a dozen people are still displaced.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help them find housing in the area.

"Communities like ours, it's very hard for us to recover because we don't have the systems and infrastructure," Perez-Ruiz said. "So when something like this happens, it could take years to recover. We are determined to make it happen within a year."

Rodriguez says Poplar is made up of hardworking people who deserve better services, such as a fire station.

But he says he's not going anywhere.

"Me and my family (are) very strong," he said. "So if I start from nothing, I can come back."

Tulare County Fire officials say the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Another vaccination event will take place next month.
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