Story by AnnaRose Chaney
OAKHURST – At the start of summer 2014, fires began plaguing the land and people of our community. For some, the flames were no more than distant spirals of smoke and ash that blackened the air and left the sky a bitter red. To others, the flames were omens of fear and chaos, and with them came great adversity. For those unfortunate enough, the pillars of smoke rose from the blackened remains of their beloved homes.
Many will remember the mass evacuations and tireless efforts of local firefighters as they struggled last year to put out the flames of the Junction Fire on August 18, which could be seen for miles in the Oakhurst area. Sources at Cal Fire reported that the final count for structures lost came to 47. Most of those structures were outbuildings and storage containers, but not all.
One of the homes leveled in the fire was that of Lyric Piccolotti.
“Because our home was situated so close to Suburban Propane and the fire quickly turned to threaten the large propane storage tanks, we literally had seconds to get out of the house with nothing but the clothes on our back,” Lyric remembers of the Junction Fire.
Many of the evacuated community members were left waiting to hear news about their property and their homes. For the Piccolottis, it was a long night spent in nervous anticipation.
“We were up most of that night waiting to hear any news,” Piccolotti says. “It was around noon on the day after the fire that we received confirmation that our house and all our things were gone.”
When asked about her initial reaction to the news, Lyric responds, “I think shock initially shuts everything else down. You just stare into nothing and are jolted awake by the occasional thought of something that you will never have again. That lasted at least several days and even today I still remember things that we lost that day.”
When asked what advice she had for others on future evacuations and fires, Lyric says you can’t really avoid fires once they start, but you can be proactive.
“Just make sure you have a plan, a place you can go afterwards. Respecting the people who handle fires is important, too. And be grateful for what you have, but especially be grateful for those whom you love and who love you.”
Delving into the topic of firefighters, Lyric demonstrates a positive attitude towards her experience with local employees of Cal Fire and other responding agencies.
“One of the people we were living with had six firefighters help for hours to go through the debris looking for her wedding ring. They were so amazing and understanding of our situation.”
With a home destroyed, and many possessions lost, starting over can be a very difficult process. For the Piccolottis, the love and compassion of many locals and community members was enough to carry them through.
“We were able to recover rather quickly because of the wonderful people who live around here. We never were without the basic things we needed and met so many wonderful, giving people throughout the process. Something like this just focuses you on what’s really important in life. Things are just things.”
Just as the Piccolottis recovered from the loss with the help of family and friends, our community has begun to rebuild itself from the ashes. The efforts to rebuild have continued to progress over the past year, and many new homes are now close to completion.
The French Fire, Junction Fire, Courtney Fire, and many others have brought much heartache. Yet, even in the midst of that pain, through the generosity and compassion of our community, there was always hope.
With the dry spell that California residents have faced this year, and what seem like ever-rising temperatures, fire may plague our surrounding communities once again. It’s times such as these that we must remember that hope. Even when the sky is a bitter red, and the air a blackened cloud of smoke, we will continue to rise from the ashes.
AnnaRose Chaney is a mountain area resident and recent graduate of Minarets.
Image of Lyric Piccolotti by Franklin Lopez Photography