US & World

Nearly burned off map, Northern California town fights back

A pair of melted address numbers hang from a sign near a home destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Mountain Ranch, Calif. The blaze exploded amid triple-digit temperatures and land parched from several years of drought. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
A pair of melted address numbers hang from a sign near a home destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Mountain Ranch, Calif. The blaze exploded amid triple-digit temperatures and land parched from several years of drought. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
/AP
A pair of melted address numbers hang from a sign near a home destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Mountain Ranch, Calif. The blaze exploded amid triple-digit temperatures and land parched from several years of drought. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Flames burn in the remains of a home destroyed by the Butte Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Mountain Ranch, Calif. Firefighters gained some ground Saturday against the explosive wildfire that incinerated buildings and chased hundreds of people from mountain communities in drought-stricken Northern California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
A pair of melted address numbers hang from a sign near a home destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Mountain Ranch, Calif. The blaze exploded amid triple-digit temperatures and land parched from several years of drought. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
A swimming pool is covered with ash and debris from the Butte Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, that destroyed a nearby home in Mountain Ranch, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
A pair of melted address numbers hang from a sign near a home destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Mountain Ranch, Calif. The blaze exploded amid triple-digit temperatures and land parched from several years of drought. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Sculptures of deer stand in a residential neighborhood destroyed by wildfires in Cobb, California, on September 15, 2015. According to Cal Fire, the Valley Fire has burned 585 homes and 67,000 acres (27,114 hectares). The Valley Fire and the Butte Fire, that erupted at the weekend killing at least one person, has forced the evacuation of more than 23,000 people. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
A pair of melted address numbers hang from a sign near a home destroyed by a wildfire Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Mountain Ranch, Calif. The blaze exploded amid triple-digit temperatures and land parched from several years of drought. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
A water truck passes a warning sign that the California Caverns historic site is closed due to smoke from the Butte Fire, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, near San Andreas, Calif. Firefighters gained some ground Saturday against the explosive wildfire that incinerated buildings and chased hundreds of people from mountain communities in drought-stricken Northern California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/AP


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."