Jeff Jardine

From flames in the foothills come stories that warm hearts

Daniel Ravera, left, and Bill Stafford, right, stand on a neighbors home to watch the fire move towards their property at Sheep Ranch on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. The Butte Fire started Wednesday east of the Amador County town of Jackson and has burned nearly 65,000 acres and is forcing evacuations in the dry hills east of Highway 49.
Daniel Ravera, left, and Bill Stafford, right, stand on a neighbors home to watch the fire move towards their property at Sheep Ranch on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. The Butte Fire started Wednesday east of the Amador County town of Jackson and has burned nearly 65,000 acres and is forcing evacuations in the dry hills east of Highway 49. aseng@sacbee.com

Two years ago, the massive Rim fire raged through the Stanislaus National Forest and into Yosemite National Park. It threatened the historic town of Groveland, along with the Pine Mountain Lake development. Residents found themselves on the receiving end of the generosity of others.

With homes endangered, evacuations in order and some businesses nearly put out of business because the tourism to Yosemite National Park stopped dead along Highway 120, the locals were grateful to those who opened their property to trailers and their barns and pastures to displaced animal.

So with the Butte fire thus far burning over 71,000 acres, 135 homes and more than 80 other buildings in Calaveras and Amador counties, Groveland-area residents are among those giving. Or, in their case, giving back. The owners of Miner’s Mart store posted on its Facebook page that they are collecting items including bottled water, food and other supplies. They sent a trailer load of necessities to the students at Columbia College’s fire training academy to distribute Monday, with a load of hay to follow.

“We’ve also received cash donations,” said Natasha Hansen, whose parents own the store. “We’re going to go shopping for them (Monday). We’re just waiting for a list of what else they need.”

The effort in Groveland is by no means isolated. People throughout Valley and foothill regions are stepping up in every way possible, from donations of goods and food supplies to offering their properties as shelter to rescuing animals. Efforts are ongoing in virtually every community in the area to meet the immediate needs of the displaced.

Indeed, social media and especially Facebook have been a prime source of communication between those staying with their homes as long as possible – or finally evacuating – and those offering help and prayers. It’s been a cyber lifeline showing the ferocity of the fire, the devastation and despair, but also the triumphs. Churches and individuals have offered their land as evacuation centers.

One resident posted the suggestion that horse owners write their phone numbers on their horse’s hooves so they can be contacted if the horses are rescued.

Volunteers associated with the Laughton Ranch in Jackson have saved hundreds of critters, from horses and cattle to miniature donkeys and smaller, making numerous trips back into the hills to retrieve even more.

“I pulled in with the pickup to get diesel and went to ask (the station attendant) to turn on the diesel pump,” volunteer Edna Overstreet of Valley Springs told me. A woman asked if Overstreet was an evacuee. When Overstreet told her she and husband, Martin, were rescuing animals, “she broke down sobbing,” Overstreet said. “She handed the (attendant) money to fuel the truck. I didn’t ask for that. We haven’t asked for anything. Everybody is just coming together in a monumental way.”

Overstreet and her husband run a ministry called Reach the World International. They’ve posted numerous videos, including one of San Andreas’ Sam Vassey, whose family’s walnut and fruit tree orchards went up in flames along with three homes. That he found his golden retriever, Spike, who suffered burned paws but turned up on a neighbor’s front porch, stood as a bright spot on an otherwise horrific weekend.

People with stock trailers hauling horses to safety sometimes barely escaped the flames in the process. Photos are posted of cattle saved by firefighters who used water from their trucks to quench the animals’ thirst.

Postings of a pair of donkeys missing as the fire neared Mountain Ranch helped reunite them with their owner when they were found. Animal rescuer Bobbie Carne, according to one post, saved a mountain lion cub with burned paws, now recovering at Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital in Turlock.

The generosity surfaced in places you might not expect: football stadiums many miles away. With the thick smoke engulfing the foothills, Sonora High on Friday switched its scheduled home game and became the visitor at Hilmar. There was just one glitch: Sonora High had committed buses to the fire effort to help evacuees reach the shelters. So Hilmar sent two buses to Sonora to bring the Wildcats players down the hill for the game. When it was over – Sonora won 36-35 – the Hilmar folks provided pizza to Sonora’s players and coaches before busing them home again.

Likewise, Amador High was supposed to play a home game Friday against Capital Christian High School of Sacramento. Instead, they rescheduled to play Monday night in Sacramento. Capital Christian not only is giving ticket and snack bar receipts to Amador County fire victims but also asked its fans to wear Amador’s navy blue and sit in Amador’s side of the stadium as a show of support.

There are more of these stories than we can possibly report or will ever hear about. Bad things always bring out the best in people. They step up to help. They pray. They give.

That the folks in Groveland joined in to collect food, goods, money and hay for the Butte fire victims is exactly what you’d expect. Just two years ago, they were on the receiving end.

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