Mountain Ranch is known as a Gold Rush-era, fiercely independent place, where many of its aging residents distrust the government and prefer to take matters into their own hands.
The unincorporated hamlet in Calaveras County bore the brunt of a destructive Northern California wildfire and now faces its greatest test — recovering from the ravenous blaze, which destroyed more than 350 homes in the town of 1,800.
At the Mountain Ranch Community Club, neighbors gather each week for emergency town-hall meetings. In intense discussions, residents divide up tasks: They arrange transportation for those stranded; they compile lists of people with homes intact and rooms to lend; they share information on debris cleanup, on where you might find cellphone reception and on where to go for emotional support, the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday.
Phil Alberts, the town historian, had seen Mountain Ranch endure hardship in previous years, but never peril such as this massive firestorm hurtling toward enclave.
Alberts, 82, says he is "trying to bring the town back." He wants to resurrect a place that "has potluck dinners and softball games and all the stuff that the big cities laugh at."
People refused to leave here after local gold mines closed for good in 1942. They also stayed through difficult economic times after the sawmills shuttered in the 1970s, and again after a major employer, the Calaveras Cement Co., perished in 1983.
But as the town's grit is challenged more than ever, its residents reveal their determination.
Fire victim Jacki Malvini, 48, and her husband erected a modest manufactured home on a ridge with a spectacular view of mountain woodlands. She is determined to rebuild.
The Malvinis' house wasn't insured for fire. Now staying at the home of a son, Jacki says the family soon will park a trailer on the property and start rebuilding. Ken has worked construction for 30 years, and local church volunteers are promising to help.
"It is going to all come back," Jacki said determinedly of her town. "I haven't heard one person say for sure, 'I'm getting the hell out of here.' People are going to be staying."