Veteran at CalVet’s Redding Home puts heart, paint brushes to work for Carr fire victims

REDDING – As the Carr fire raged through Northern California in July 2018, residents of the Veterans Home of California-Redding began painting signs for the men and women fighting the conflagration.

Vietnam-era veteran and artist Michael VanCleemput, was among those who was asked to contribute.

Veteran and artist Michael VanCleemput with his artistic tribute to Carr Fire victims.
Veteran and artist Michael VanCleemput with his artistic tribute to Carr Fire victims.

“I agreed, but I needed an inspiration for an appropriate subject,” VanCleemput said. He found that motivation in a photograph taken by Mike Daly, a local photographer who does freelance work for the fire department and covered the Carr fire.

“I found a beauty of an air crane (helicopter) sucking water up as it hovered over Mary Lake,” VanCleemput said. “We got (Daly’s) permission to use his idea in my painting.” VanCleemput then applied his artistry by depicting the air crane amid great danger, with the flames bearing down.

Monday, VanCleemput donated and presented the painting to fire officials in a ceremony at Redding City Hall.

VanCleemput said it was important to portray resolve in the face of devastation. The Carr fired claimed the lives of three firefighters and five civilians on its way to burning 229,651 acres and destroying 1077 homes.

 “The helicopter (the air crane) is a symbol of help,” he said. “It is an image of hope. It stands for all the other images which could have been chosen. The Carr fire was a storm tearing through our homes and landscape. We will never recover the loss of our loved ones whose lives were taken by this fire.”

And he wanted the painting to pay tribute to those who risked their own lives to save others, as well as remembering those who perished.

“The horror of the Carr fire 2018 chills me,” he inscribed on the back of the painting. “The irreplaceable human life lost. Nothing can express sympathy enough for that loss. I give my gratitude to those who fought on and behind the fire lines, and those who lost a loved one – a memorial – to remind me of ‘their’ absence for our lives.”


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