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After Wood Hollow fire, woman quilts for families who lost it all
August 5, 2012

FAIRVIEW, Sanpete County — From the ashes of a wildfire that burned more than 47,000 acres in central Utah was born an idea to help affected families rebuild: a quilt for every home lost, to bring warmth to those who knew only heat.

Nothing does a better job than a quilt of showing people they are cared for, Fairview resident Julie Anderson believes. After seeing a neighbor's house burn in the Wood Hollow Fire, she decided to make them a quilt to remind them that they were not alone, and that someone was rooting for them.

Anderson soon decided to give away 52 quilts: one to each family who had lost a home in the Wood Hollow Fire. She asked for donations on her blog and got hundreds of responses — more than she needed for 52 quilts.

"People were so giving," she said. "We had more than we needed, so I decided with my husband to do the same thing for every home lost in the western United States."

She created a more formal organization and called it Phoenix Quilts. It is her hope that like the mythical firebird that bursts into flames, only to be reborn from its ashes to begin life anew, those who have lost their homes during an active fire season will see their quilts as a chance at rebirth: the beginning of a new journey on which they are not alone.

Her own family had been evacuated for a night because of the fire, so when My Lazy Daisy, a St. George-based company for which she consults, contacted her to express their concern, she told them about the project. The company decided to hold a quilt-a-thon, and after two straight days of quilting, 27 more families had quilts.

"It's been awesome," Anderson said. "The amount of support for this has been incredible."

Companies have donated fabric and batting for the quilts, and individuals from around the nation — and a few from around the globe — have donated either quilts or funds for more material. Anderson told the story of a woman from Australia who, upon realizing she could not afford to pay postage on a finished quilt, paid to ship a quilt top to the U.S.

"She said, ‘I feel very strongly that I need to help you,'" Anderson said. "Here she is across the world, she doesn't even know me, and she just wants to help."

Another Australia woman said she was sending a quilt because when homes in her country were lost to wildfires years back, Americans sent aid.

Anderson said her goal is not to replace bedding; it is the symbolism of the quilt that matters.

"Quilts represent love, comfort, warmth and caring," she said. "The amount of time and money that goes into making these quilts is amazing, and the people who have been willing to help — I'm a stranger to these people, but they knew there was a need and wanted to help."

Quilting, organizing donations and planning trips to deliver the quilts has become a full-time job for Anderson. She has only been quilting for a year and a half, and said she feels overwhelmed about the scope of project almost daily, but has never regretted getting involved.

"I've never lost my home, and I can't imagine that feeling of, ‘Where do I start?'" she said. "I can't imagine the heartache it would cause to lose everything you own."

Anderson has trips scheduled throughout the rest of the summer to deliver quilts to fire victims across the western U.S. Quilts for those who lost their homes to the Wood Hollow Fire have already been delivered.

"They cried tears of gratitude," she said of the quilt recipients. "I don't think you can explain … somebody out there cared about what they're going through."