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September 21, 2015
The Butte Fire: Before and After

Souvenirs from the Butte Fire: a rock covered with Borate fire retardant; a rock half burned by the fire

As of Monday morning, September 21, 2015, the Butte Fire has burned 70,760 acres and is 74 percent contained. Structures destroyed include 545 residences and 356 outbuildings. A total of 3,446 firefighting personnel are currently assigned to the fire, with thousands more battling other fires throughout California and the West.

(Current speculation is that the fire started when a tree touched a PG&E power pole on Butte Road outside of Jackson, near the north shore of the Mokelumne River. But authorities have not yet issued a definitive report.)

Last night, Gail continued to see small spot fires in the valley to the south. A fire crew spent the night stationed on our property again, but by this morning they were gone.

Today we left to return to the Bay Area. We drove through the towns of Glencoe (to the east) and Mokelumne Hill (to the west). We are happy to report that – as far as we saw – both towns appear to have escaped the fire. It looks like our property really was the fire line. Areas on Highway 26 east of us look largely normal. As we reported during our drive in, the areas on Highway 26 west of us were severely damaged.

As we drove west, we stopped again at Burson. Because we never needed water, we still had several five-gallon water jugs in the back of the van, thanks to Russell’s brother-in-law Matt. The good news is that the evacuation center at Glory Bound Fellowship Church had received so many donations that they weren’t accepting any more.

The even better news is that the Burson Full Gospel Church (where we had donated our shelving on the way in) had an immediate need for them. Habitat for Humanity working in Mountain Ranch (one of the areas hardest hit) had specifically requested these kinds of water jugs. Matt Nordahl, the pastor, was just loading up a truck to head out there, and we were happy to make our contribution.

We also chatted with Teri, who has been volunteering here for the past week. She has been unable to return to her home in San Andreas due to the excessive smoke, so she has been working here day and night. As far as she knows her home is intact, but she is very concerned about looters.

After almost a week up here, we are happy to be returning to the Bay Area. This is been an extremely stressful week, not only for Gail and Russell individually, but for us as a couple. Once again, we count our blessings that we made it through this fire with our home intact, and that we have another home to return to. Thank you to everyone who has helped us out with loans, donations, well wishes and prayers.

The work ahead to fix our property is so daunting that we can’t even think about it yet. We have hundreds of dead trees that need to come out. We have debris to clear and roads to repair. When we first started building the house, we had a good-old-fashioned barn-raising. We invited friends and family up for a few days of community and hard work, in exchange for our hospitality and Gail’s good cooking. We may try doing that again. Stay tuned.

We have hundreds of dead trees that need to come out

As a conclusion to this week of fire-related blog posts, we present a small collection of “before and after” photos. (Yes, it was a pain in the butt to re-create these views. Imagine Russell running all over the property with a camera, a laptop PC and a stool.)

The southern vista across the valley was the view that first made us fall in love with and purchase the property. Here are two panoramas, showing before and after the fire.

Some close-ups of the southern view, showing two of our favorite hills

The southwestern knoll, where our shed used to be

The parklike hill to the west of the house. (If you look closely at the top photo, you can see Cameron and Gail in 2003, during one of their first explorations of the property)

A reassuring sign of hope and beauty: sunset over the Jackson Butte, near where the fire first began


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