Local firefighter, brewery team up to help Camp Fire victims

Jason Bolen, of Lebanon Fire District, may be done fighting the Camp Fire in California, but he had one last thing to do for the community that touched his heart.

Conversion Brewing in Lebanon invited Bolen to help brew a special collaboration beer for which all proceeds will be donated to a fund for victims of the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., and expects a Dec. 19 release date.

Sierra Nevada Brewery, situated just 13 miles west of the mountain community that was wiped out by the fire, invited brewers across the nation to participate in the fund-raiser by brewing and selling its new Resilience* IPA.

According to its website, nearly 1,500 breweries are involved in the project, including 62 from Oregon, one of which is from Lebanon.

“I don’t know this for certain, but I can’t imagine that this is not the biggest collaboration brew in the history of brewing – 1,500 breweries. I don’t think that that’s ever happened before,” said Matt Cowart, owner of Conversion Brewing.

Knowing that Bolen helped fight the fire in Paradise last month, Cowart asked him to participate in the brewing process Nov. 30.

“He was super excited because not only was it a fund-raiser for the devastation he saw, but also because he’s a brewer himself and he was able to come take part in it,” Cowart said.

Every brewery involved in the fund-raiser received donated ingredients from their distributors, he said. The cost of water, electricity and labor is donated from each brewery, making 100 percent of the proceeds available for the fund.

Conversion’s single batch will yield 93 gallons, or about 744 pints, which should raise about $3,000 for the Camp Fire fund, Cowart said.

“It has an extravagantly high amount of crystal malt in it for an IPA, so it’s gonna be probably somewhat full-bodied,” he said. “The cool thing about it is it did turn out bright red.”

Bolen was among about 30 firefighters from Linn and Benton counties who joined forces with 5,500 other firefighters from 15 states to battle the Camp Fire. His group was primarily assigned to firefighting and fire line protection, and they spent a few days doing rescue work and mopping up hot spots.

His group worked on the outlying areas of the town, where it appears everyone got out safely, Bolen said.

“It’s the most destructive (fire) any of us have seen,” he said. “Down in the town areas, it was one foundation after another, and you might see a portion of a wall, but for the most part everything was just gone.”

Residential driveways led only to a couple walls and remnants of refrigerators, stoves, and washers and dryers, he said. 

“The landscape around it, we used the term ‘moonscape’ because it was just so severely scarred and burned that it just looked like the surface of the moon. It was nothing but mineral soil and stick trees.”

Bolen said it was traumatic to see the number of people who lost everything.

“We just really felt for them, especially around Thanksgiving. It just made us very thankful for what we had at home and what I was going home to.”

Firefighters were camped about a quarter mile from Sierra Nevada, and they were invited to eat from a buffet provided by the brewery, he said.

“The community was so supportive of us,” Bolen said. “Everywhere you went people were literally running up to the side of the engine to reach in the cab and shake your hand and thank you for coming, and then they would tell you they lost everything.”

But he was inspired by the parking lots filled with donated clothing and material.

“It seems like a real resilient community. They really were pulling together,” Bolen said.

To donate to the Camp Fire fund-raiser, purchase the Sierra Nevada Resilience IPA from Conversion Brewing, or donate directly at www.goldenvalley.bank/Community-Foundation.aspx. Learn more at www.sierranevada.com/resilience-butte-county-proud-ipa.

Conversion Brewing will host a release party from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19. 

*Resilience is a registered trademark on loan from Schilling Beer Co.