21 for ’21: Losing her home to fire helped Hallie Greene learn how to help others

Boulder Creek native Hallie Greene has found comfort in helping others.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

When the Boulder Creek native lost her own house to the CZU Lightning fire, she sprung into action to assist others who were perplexed about, and left vulnerable amid, the recovery process.

Like most of the people who survived the CZU Lightning Complex fire, Hallie Greene couldn’t imagine that a disaster of that scale ever would befall her.

From the moment a helicopter flew over her house ordering her to evacuate, to when she returned home and found her house gone and the ground around it still smoldering — none of it felt quite real. “I don’t know that I still have my brain wrapped around it really,” she said.

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After the devastation, the Santa Cruz Mountains got a lot of attention. Greene and her neighbors heard from everyone from the New Yorker to the LA Times, and Greene even got a call from a journalist in Russia, who asked if she was planning to move away because of global warming.

“Where else would I go?” Greene said. She never considered leaving. Instead, she’s become a major force helping the community rebuild through her role as manager of the Boulder Creek Recreation & Park District.

Greene runs a recovery hub out of the Bear Creek Community Center, a recreation site that was left unused due to COVID-19, but where she and others now help fire survivors every weekend.

It all started after she went to local firefighters for help after her house burned down.

“[They] showed me what the county had brought up for fire relief and it was like some garbage bags on the ground with masks and a tarp,” she said. “I hadn’t been through a disaster yet, so I don’t know what there should be, but I looked at that and thought, ‘Well, it should probably be more than that.’”

Greene worked with the county, the Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency to start organizing a sort of recovery “fair” at the rec center, with booths for different agencies providing different kinds of help.

She and her volunteers help connect fire victims with the various resources, agencies, and donations that can help them, work that there is still a lot of demand for and is planned to continue into next year.

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One of the most popular and impactful services is helping people with their insurance claims. Greene mostly does this through a group called United Policy Holders, a nonprofit that advocates to help people get the insurance money owed them.

“I would say I see about a 100-125 people a week [for insurance claims],” Greene said. Mostly, she is passing them on to United Policyholders, but she knows enough now that she can often spot for herself when people aren’t being treated fairly.

Recently, a young Bonny Doon couple came to her during a recovery event. They had just bought a home before the fire and were expecting a baby. Soon after the purchase was completed, their insurance company had sent them a check.

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The couple was a little confused and didn’t know exactly what it was for, but they put it in their bank account. After the fire, they found out that by depositing the check, they had inadvertently agreed to a lower insurance policy.

“They were completely under-insured, they should have been at $700,000; they were at about $100,000,” Greene said. “They came to the table kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh, we don’t know what to do, maybe we should just move away.’ And I said, ‘Hold on. You definitely have a legal case right there.’”

Now the couple is working to pursue a case and get their money back.

A Boulder Creek native, Greene, 37, left town for college and to work in the film industry in New York and Los Angeles, but returned home in 2007 to help her mother through a cancer diagnosis.

As soon as she was home, she found herself drawn to the Boulder Creek Recreation Center, a place where she had fond memories of spending time as a child. Greene started by offering dance classes and events, and by 2011 she was managing the place.

With her house burned to the ground, she is now living in a trailer on a friend’s property with her two children. Like most of her neighbors, she’s beginning the long, slow process of rebuilding.

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Throughout the ordeal, it had been obvious to her that she needed to step in to help. What was more surprising was to be in the position of needing help herself.

Greene was overwhelmed by the donations she personally received — toys, clothing, gift cards, even a generator — and for her community at large. She watched every GoFundMe met or exceed its goals.

“I’ve never been a victim of something or had to really receive,” she said. “It’s been a really good learning lesson in that way.”

Lookout's 21 for '21

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re profiling 21 individuals who made a difference in pandemic-and-wildfire-ravaged Santa Cruz County in 2020 — and how they’re looking toward recovery in 2021. Have suggestions about others we should pick? Email us at news@lookoutlocal.com