How Authors Can Help After a Disaster


by Debbie Burke


NASA Goddard Photo of the Camp Fire, Paradise, CA

The Camp Fire in Paradise, California killed scores of people and destroyed 13,972 homes, 528 commercial structures and 4,293 other buildings (according to NPR, 11/27/18).

Our nephew and his wife were among those who lost their homes, barely escaping with old family photos and two pairs of pants—the size 36 jeans he was wearing, and the size 28 US Navy trousers that had belonged to his grandfather (my father-in-law) when “Pop” served on the USS Enterprise during World War II.

The fire destroyed countless memories, mementoes, and relics of history—the foundations upon which people build their lives, identities, society, and culture.

Amid the devastation, the Paradise Library remained standing, although damaged.

Beth Zimmerman, a national expert on disaster recovery says, “The library will be a key to providing [survivors] a known place to gather and take time to commune with their neighbors. Libraries can soothe children’s fears and help them cope, especially if they are used to going there.”

When everything familiar and comforting is lost, books can help recreate a sense of safety and security.

Melanie Lightbody, head of the Butte County Library System says, “The library is one of the few buildings which survived and therefore will be even more crucial to the community as it rebuilds. A symbol of possibility and hope.”

Efforts are underway to rehabilitate the structure and contents. Author Phil Padgett is spearheading a pledge drive for books to repopulate the library’s shelves. A former FEMA reservist who deployed to New York after Hurricane Sandy, Phil understands the complex, long-term logistics of rebuilding.

Unlike immediate necessities, such as bottled water, food, clothing, and construction materials, books fall into the category of way-down-the-road work. Yes, they are needed but what do you do with them in the mean time when there is no place to put them?

For now, Phil is compiling a list of authors who have pledged to donate their books. In coming months, he will coordinate collection, cataloguing, and storage. Later, when the library is ready to receive the books, he will arrange for shipping.

Books can be solace in time of tragedy, taking people’s minds off their troubles.

One of the best compliments I ever received came from a reader in Florida. My thriller Instrument of the Devil was released at the same time Hurricane Irma hit. The woman said my book had helped her pass the long, difficult week when she (and millions of others) had no electricity.

As authors, we don’t necessarily run bulldozers or nail up plywood but we can help rebuild lost culture.

If you’re an author who would like to donate to the Paradise Library, Phil’s email is: 




Does your Amazon holiday gift card have spare change left on it? Catch the January sale of Debbie Burke’s award-winning thriller Instrument of the Devil  for only 99 cents. Or read for free on Amazon Prime. Click here.

17 thoughts on “How Authors Can Help After a Disaster

  1. What a fantastic cause, Debbie. I’ve accumulated over 1,000 books in my garage–read, pack into boxes, buy new books, read some more–over the past three years. I’ll contact Phil and see what we can arrange. Thanks for sharing the info.

  2. Update – Librarian Emily Goehring offers the below option for cash contributions to the Paradise Library. She sends her thanks and writes:

    “It is humbling to see the offers of even further assistance. If there is interest, we do have the ability to accept monetary donations. While the Paradise Friends of the Library is unable to process funds at this time, the Oroville Friends of the Library have generously offered to hold money for Paradise Library. They will need full contact information and details of the preferred direction of the funds. Please direct funds to:

    Oroville Friends of the Library, 1820 Mitchell Avenue, Oroville, CA 95966”

    Please specify on your check that funds are for the Paradise Library.

    • We’re so glad your Nephew and his wife are ok!You and Tom must be hugely relieved.
      What would we do without libraries?!I still remember getting my first card with my Mom at the library in Pacific Beach.A whole world opened up!
      Thank you so much for the Oroville Friends’ address for donations to the Paradise.We’re glad to help.

  3. I live in North Carolina, home of hurricanes. After Floyd inundated most of the eastern part of the state then left, libraries across the rest of the state adopted a town. My city found someone to donate a large mobile home which was placed in the town, then patrons of my library donated the books to fill it. Most of my keeper paperbacks became donations because they needed them more than I did.

    After Katrina destroyed a writer friend’s home in Mississippi, a group of us who had been friends for years exchanged notes and coordinated what books of hers we had, and we managed to send her her entire backlist after she rebuilt.

    On a separate note, events like this should remind us to make digital archives of family photos, etc. I now own the family homeplace and have over a hundred years of family pictures and documents. Being paranoid about fire and other disasters, I spent over a year making digital copies of everything, and I made a CD for every family member as well as a curated version for cousins so the history would remain if something happened to the originals. There are now companies who will do this so not having time is no longer an excuse. Do it for your own precious memories!

    • What great support from North Carolina to their stricken neighbors. And your Mississippi friend must have been thrilled to receive your gift of her back list.

      Excellent advice about digital back up copies of photos and important documents. It doesn’t take a major disaster to destroy precious memories–a busted water pipe can wreak havoc.

      Thanks for adding valuable points to the discussion, Marilynn.

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  5. Thanks for letting us know about this wonderful project, Debbie.
    Those of us living in the beautiful, forested mountains of rural Montana know that wildfires pose one of our biggest dangers to our lives, our homes, our community.

    I will definitely contact Phil and put my name of the list to send books when they are ready. My thoughts and prayers are with your nephew and his family.

  6. We’re so glad your Nephew and his wife are OK.You must be hugely relieved.I’ll keep them in my prayers.
    Thank you for the Oroville address for donations.We are happy to help!
    Still remember getting my first library card with my Mom,in second grade,at the Pacific Beach Library.A whole world opened up!

    • Thank you, Mary Ellen. The library will appreciate your help!

      Yes, that first library card is a great memory–mine came from the library on Adams Avenue in San Diego. Later, I gobbled my way through the one on Washington Street.

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