One year after the Butte Fire, the once-lush foothills are nearly barren in places. From the ridge tops, ghostly forests of blackened trees stretch as far as you can see.
One year after, it appears many of those who lost their homes aren't coming back. A total of 549 homes burned. But just 69 permits to rebuild homes have been issued, county officials said this week.
One year after, some fire victims still are living in government trailers. A survey, though limited in scope, suggested nearly two-thirds of the victims did not have enough insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding.
And one year after, the county is swept up in controversy over marijuana grows that have become more visible and numerous after cultivators rushed to buy fire-charred properties earlier this year. The grows, which the county recently began regulating, will help the stagnant economy, supporters say. But fire victims are wary, and a culture clash of sorts has emerged as longtime
Yes, it might be tempting to count out
[gh:div id="tout-fv3vb9-target"][/gh:div][gh:script src="//player.tout.com/embeds/fv3vb9.js?content_brand_uid=6b4432&width=auto&height=auto&autoplay=false&element_id=tout-fv3vb9-target"][/gh:script]
Honoring the memories
More than 27,000 truckloads of ash and debris were sent to the landfill over the past year. But not all of it was lost.
Saturday, at the community park in
"If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces," reads a quote on the mosaic, surrounded by carefully arranged portions of plates, cups, silverware, jewelry, tools, door hinges and just about anything else you can imagine.
Modlin and her partner,
"We were awestruck by the profound nature of being entrusted with these treasures that belonged to people who had lost absolutely everything," Modlin said Thursday, after making the finishing touches to the mosaic. "It felt like a sacred thing. These were very personal things, and we were taking care of them."
She hopes the mosaic will inspire those who have suffered to find a creative spark as they rebuild their own lives.
[gh:div id="tout-kgdp49-target"][/gh:div][gh:script src="//player.tout.com/embeds/kgdp49.js?content_brand_uid=6b4432&width=auto&height=auto&autoplay=false&element_id=tout-kgdp49-target"][/gh:script]
While Modlin finished her mosaic Thursday,
Alberts offered the nickel tour of
Many of the nearly 2,000 residents who call
"We have a good percentage of older people who lost it all, and said, 'To hell with it, I'm going to get out of here,' " Alberts said. "They're too old to start over."
Even some whose homes did not burn have left, he said. They couldn't stomach staring at the scorched earth every day.
But like the gold miners who founded this town, the people who have stayed in
"We're trying to keep all of this alive," Alberts said.
He already was an old-timer in 1979 when the community baseball field was built. It took years to raise the money for the field, which is named for Alberts -- as is half the town, it seems.
During the fire, however, the field was used as a staging area for equipment whose tires dug up the sod. Once again, Alberts got to work. In six weeks the community raised more than
After the mosaic is dedicated today, the new field will be christened with a "mushball" game (think softball, but with a larger and softer ball). Retired
Said Alberts: "I want people to have a little pride in their town."
[gh:div id="tout-c7xxwe-target"][/gh:div][gh:script src="//player.tout.com/embeds/c7xxwe.js?content_brand_uid=6b4432&width=auto&height=auto&autoplay=false&element_id=tout-c7xxwe-target"][/gh:script]
Head east from
Roadside signs advertise properties for sale and warn of fraudulent contractors. Thousands of dead trees are marked for removal because they pose a threat to passing motorists. Occasionally, an emerald-green marijuana grow stands out against the stark scenery.
Nuhfar lost everything in the fire: The shop he rented, and the trailer he lived in. Practically all he had left was a family heirloom, a cross that he wears around his neck.
Nuhfar's hardship wasn't lost on his customers and fellow community members. They donated tools, including a pricey
All of this allowed the 62-year-old
"It's unbelievable, the generosity of some people," he said. "The only thing I had to buy were these tennis shoes."
Things weren't easy before the fire. They're certainly not easy now.
"But I feel good," Nuhfar said. "I feel the good Lord's got plans for me."
[gh:div id="tout-gbwq1i-target"][/gh:div][gh:script src="//player.tout.com/embeds/gbwq1i.js?content_brand_uid=6b4432&width=auto&height=auto&autoplay=false&element_id=tout-gbwq1i-target"][/gh:script]
'It's just home to me'
Though she is stuck in a cramped
She never has owned a new home. In a way, despite the disaster, this is an exciting time.
"I've lived here for 29 years and it's just home to me," Keeler said. "I love
Hers is not the only new home sprouting in the hills. The group Calaveras Recovers is building two new homes for those who lacked insurance, and the plan is to build 10 more with the help of Mennonite workers who will visit the area next month.
A new house won't bring back Keeler's belongings, of course. The fire destroyed the baby grand piano that Keeler's husband, a jazz musician, often played before his death more than a decade ago. The fire also consumed her husband's ashes.
Corningware dishes that were a wedding present in 1957 fused together and were found intact in the rubble, despite the disintegration of the kitchen shelf on which the dishes sat. "I'm going to take a picture and send it to the Corningware people," Keeler said with a laugh.
Asked about the future of the town she loves so much, Keeler paused and said: "I don't know. But I have a positive attitude toward the human race. I think we'll come back."
(c)2016 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)
Visit The Record (Stockton, Calif.) at www.recordnet.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.