Blue Cut Fire: Who helps the helpers?

Firefighters watch the Blue Cut wildfire burning near the Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino, California on August 16, 2016.
Firefighters watch the Blue Cut wildfire burning near the Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino, California on August 16, 2016.

Kim Vodden was prepared to evacuate. Officials came by with bullhorns at 3 o'clock in the morning — she thinks it was Wednesday but the past week has been a blur — and told residents of Wrightwood they needed to evacuate. But while she was waiting for her family to get ready, she decided to come into her cafe, brew a little coffee and bring it to the firefighters who had been up all night.

"I turned on the lights and people just started showing up so I just decided to stay," Vodden says. "Those guys hadn't used the restroom and didn't have really anywhere to go."

For the past week, when many of her neighbors in Wrightwood, a mountain town of approximately 4,500 people, left, she stuck around. Instead, as the Blue Cut Fire raged in the Cajon Pass, she opened Cinnamons Bakery & Sandwich shop to help feed the crews on the front lines.

She wasn't the only one.

Leo Hordyk, owner of the Grizzly Cafe in Wrightwood, also stayed behind, well after all his kids and grandkids left. 

"Yeah, it was really scary there," Hordyck says. "[The flames] came down to probably 100 yards away from houses. And one of those houses is our daughter's."

But inside the Grizzly Cafe, in the middle of town, Hordyk felt safe. So he made sandwiches and whatever else he could for first responders.

"We're kind of like the silent supporters because with 50 square miles of fire, the support for fire and law enforcement is stretched very thin," Hordyk says. "'We've got the best in the world. The personnel were unbelievable during this fire."

Some officials estimate that of the more than 80,000 people asked to evacuate because of the Blue Cut Fire, 40 to 50 percent of the residents stayed behind. But in Wrightwood, Hordyk thinks it was far fewer. He says maybe only 100 people stayed behind in Wrightwood, mostly business owners who wanted to help fire crews.

Along with a few other establishments — The Yodeler, The Village Grind, Wrightwood Market, Jensen's Foods — the Grizzly Cafe and Cinnamons Bakery provided support.

The nearest fire camp was approximately 40 minutes away, as Vodden points out, making it unfeasible for many fire officials to make the trip back there for sustenance. In Wrightwood, various eateries pitched in to fill the gap.

Vodden took the early shift. With one other employee, she would open Cinnamons every day between 3 and 5 a.m. She poured coffee, dished out pastries, made sandwiches and grilled a lot breakfast burritos. "The breakfast burritos were a hit," she says. She'd close by noon or 12:30 p.m. By that time, other restaurants in town had opened.

"We're all neighbors and we all know each other," Vodden says. "So if one of your neighbors needs something then usually the community will band together to make sure that person gets whatever they need."

Just like they did for the first responders of the Blue Cut Fire.