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September 19, 2015
Ground Zero

A residential directory at the east end of Jesus Maria Road in Mountain Ranch

The fire fighters spent last night on our property, but by the time we got up this morning, they were gone.

Today, we decided to venture out a little. First, Russell took a long hike down the south road, where most of our fire damage occurred. For the past few years, the road was so overgrown with manzanita that it was almost impassable. Not anymore. Russell was able to hike all the way from the southwest corner of our property to the southeast corner.

Looking west along the south road on our property

In the afternoon, Russell and Gail took a driving trip through Calaveras. We went through Mountain Ranch and Jesus Maria, two of the areas that were most seriously hit by the Butte Fire. Jesus Maria Road was the last road to re-open. We saw homestead after homestead that had been completely destroyed. Fire engines, Cal Fire trucks, PG&E trucks and even National Guard trucks were all over the place.

Jesus Maria and Mountain Ranch were the last two places to re-open after the Butte Fire
(Source: yubanet.com)

Two views along Jesus Maria Road

We saw miles and miles of downed power lines

In San Andreas, we stopped to visit our friend Dennis, who first alerted us to the fire a week ago. Dennis lives on a gigantic ranch shared by many of his relatives. Fortunately, all of their homes are intact. As the fire raged in the adjacent foothills to the north and east. Dennis went out with his bulldozer and etched containment lines until his vehicle finally overheated and blew a gasket.

Others were not so lucky. In Jesus Maria, we stopped to meet the people who live directly south of us across the valley. We can see their property from our mountain, and we always wanted to find out if they could see our property from their mountain. Ray Hughes was not home, but Doris Turner was as warm and friendly as everyone else we have met in this community. Ray also lives on a gigantic family ranch shared by his relatives. Unfortunately, although Rayís home survived (their power is still out), everyone else in the family lost theirs, including a gigantic stone mansion.

A view of the Hughes Ranch, looking south from our property

A view of our property, looking north from the Hughes Ranch. The fire climbed our mountain from the south.

What is it like to be in an area after a major wildfire? It is like being in the terrain of an alien planet. It is worse than if a bomb went off. It is as if all of the life and color have been drained from the surroundings. Some of our photos look like they were taken in black and white, but they werenít. You feel your energy being drained from you.

It is like a harsh winter, where the trees are bare and a gray snow has fallen on everything. One of our readers remarked about how many trees were still standing. They are standing, but they are no longer alive. The ground is covered in a layer of ash. It is soft and hot when you walk on it, but still feels crunchy when you step. When you brush against a tree branch, your clothes become streaked with black lines of ash.

The ground and the surroundings still generate heat. The smell of burnt matter hangs in the air. One of the reasons that we ventured out today is because Gail needed to get away from the property for awhile.

One other place we made sure to stop at was the Central Calaveras Fire Station outside of Mountain Ranch. This was the crew that saved our home. We met Lee, one of the fire fighters who worked the containment line on our property. Gailís mother had given us some money that she wanted to go directly to the firemen, as opposed to a donation center. The station will add this money to a fund for several local fire fighters who lost their own homes while saving the homes of others.

Central Calaveras Fire Station #1 in Mountain Ranch


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