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Manteca couple donates trailer to Camp Fire victims
Fire trailer IMG_7342 (WEB).jpg
It was a deal from the heart when Vickie and John Zumstein shook hands with a Paradise, CA, man who took their travel trailer where it was more needed in the burned-out community in northern California. - photo by GLENN KAHL/ The Bulletin

It was nothing short of a “Phoenix” rising out of the Paradise ashes when Mantecans John and Vickie Zumstein offered their travel trailer to “put a warm roof over someone’s head.”

It all came about when Jeff Liotard was in that far northern community delivering coats, blankets, tents and pillows to aid those affected by the disastrous Camp Fire blaze when the brake lights on his trailer malfunctioned. He knew he couldn’t drive home safely.  

A volunteer mechanic from Lamon Construction Co., John Zilch, stepped up and fixed his trailer’s problem after visiting several parts stores in the area. Liotard took him to dinner, and in appreciation mentioned that if he ever needed anything he would be eager to return the favor.

Zilch, also associated with non-profit Hope Center in Oroville, was quick to respond, saying he had been looking for a couple of travel trailers to help two long-time residents who had served as handyman workers in the community and lost everything.

Liotard said he knew of one trailer back in Manteca that a woman and her husband were anxious to make available to someone in need for free and he would contact them. Tevani Liotard, Jeff’s wife, had met Vickie Zumstein, a retired front office staffer with the school district, when she was dropping off donations at the Mountain Mike’s Pizza collection point on North Main Street last weekend. Tevani remembered the woman said that she had offered their trailer two weeks earlier to the fire-torn community but had received no response from Butte County authorities. 

It was a meeting of all parties involved Friday afternoon at 1:15 in front of the Zumstein home when Zilch drove up in his company pickup truck and again met his new Manteca friends, the Liotards along with the Zumstein couple. Their travel trailer was parked in the driveway of their court in southwest Manteca looking like it was in near new condition as rain was coming down.

Mrs. Zumstein said it was all her husband John’s idea to give their trailer away, talking aloud to her as he came down their staircase into the kitchen one morning and suggested they do their part to help a survivor of the Paradise Camp Fire. 

“Giving someone shelter after losing their home is the ultimate,” she said. “We have a warm bed and we have a roof over our heads, what more could we ask for now … it is a Coachman 24-foot trailer that we have taken all over the place.”

Zilch outlined the disaster in his community that took the homes of his father-in law Ron Gilbertson of Paradise and his friend living to the north in Magalia who both got out of the fire with only the clothes on their backs.  His sister-in-law lost her home and everything inside having only one car now to her name with his brother-in-law also sustaining losses.  He showed them photographs of the devastation he had captured on his cellphone camera.

Zilch said that through the non-profit Hope Center, the Zumstein’s trailer will go to his father-in-law and a second trailer he is hoping to see donated soon will go to his friend whose home and cars were totally torched in the fire — adding he has several displaced families currently living in his home. 

He added that the Hope Center has gathered up funding for $50,000 in gift cards that will be dispersed throughout the community in the coming week to the displaced residents who have lost so much of their belongings that can’t be replaced.

After hooking up the trailer to his pickup truck, they all went inside the Zumstein home to get out of the rain and the Zumsteins presented the pink slip for the vehicle to Zilch. Liotard invited Zilch to stop by his restaurant on the way out of town and have some lunch, taking a boxed lunch with him in his cab. 

To contact Glenn Kahl, email