COARSEGOLD – “I could have lost my house. It was pretty damn scary.”
Those are the words of Rebecca Jones, who experienced something most of us never will… we hope. On the evening of Monday, July 22, when a treacherous Sierra thunderstorm threw down enough bolts of lightning to start 15 fires in the area (including the still-burning Aspen fire), Rebecca and her husband Brian Jones got the shock of a lifetime.
At least one of those lightning strikes landed right outside the Jones’ house, starting a fire that could have taken out everything they own and even more they treasure. Jones survived thanks to luck and teamwork, and wants to share her story.
“It was about dusk and I was by myself. My husband had just left to go to the store. I heard the lightning like it was right over the house. It was sparks and BOOM!”
Jones moved around her house, carefully turning off electrical items like the television and computer. Her husband heard the blast and called from the road to make sure Jones and their menagerie of horses, chickens, dogs, cats and a mini-donkey were okay. That’s about the time her intuition kicked in.
“I went outside because something was telling me it was wrong. From the front porch I saw the fire. Lightning hit one of our trees and this blaze was literally 100 feet from my house, which I thought I was going to lose. The fire started and it blew up like an inferno.”
Jones screamed for her husband to come back home.
“I’m lucky I still had him on the phone. He flips around and sees our new neighbor down the road. He rolled down the window and said ‘Lightning struck our house! Fire!’ The neighbor followed my husband home, we called 911, and then I tried to grab my garden hose, ’cause that’s all we had.”
Hose in hand, wearing just a t-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes, Jones dashed through a thick patch of poison oak to attack the growing fire.
“I’m trying to get the hose on it and meanwhile trying to call every neighbor I can think of because I know once you call one neighbor the chain reaction starts.” Her plan worked, and soon people were coming from “out of the woodwork here,” according to Jones.
“People came out in pajamas, with shovels and rakes. We had neighbors with their kids coming out. A friend of ours just down the road came in sandals. We had so many people, including a guy in a business suit and another neighbor came up in case we needed a tractor. I only had one garden hose and that was it.”
The ad-hoc laymen firefighters worked furiously against the flames while also pushing back at their biggest fear – that the house and even the entire neighborhood could explode with fire any minute.
Had it continued to spread, says the fortunate homeowner, “The only thing I would have been able to do was grab the animals,” if that.
As it turned out, “we got everything out before Cal Fire even got here,” thanks to the selfless efforts of those around her.
Meanwhile, just like Jones, who now sports battle bruises from poison oak, the struck tree bears the scar of that initial bolt from above.
“You can see where the lightning struck. It blew from the top of the tree, broke a branch and it blew the bark off the tree in a jagged lightning form where it goes all the way down to the ground.”
Jones likes to focus on the positive aspect of this terrifying story, which is the response from the neighborhood. This isn’t the first time lately that she and her husband have relied on the kindness of others.
It wasn’t that long ago that their horse Bailey got stuck underneath his corral and it took a village to save him, including some of the same people who showed up for the fire. They could be called the usual suspects by now. Bailey is fine and even after a potentially disastrous lightning strike, the Jones’ are, too.
“I cannot believe how everybody was here so quick, even though it seemed like a long time that I was trying to battle everything alone until everybody came out of nowhere just doing what they had to.”
A spotter plane had flown overhead, and with Cal Fire out knocking back several lightning-caused fires that night, they made it over to the Jones’ in time to help with the mop up. “They came in with chain saws to clean up and then Cal Fire got another call and had to go.”
The family expressed their gratitude to all who were there that night, even as big drops of rain began to fall around them. The fire wound up being about ¼ acre in the end, and everyone knows it could have been much worse.
Rebecca and Brian Jones want to thank their friends and neighbors, including John and Doris Brown, Michael Wynn, Laurie and Gordon Sandelier, Darla, Natalie and Adam Solis, Marsha Smith and Cal Fire.
“I really want to let my neighbors know how much I appreciate being here,” says Jones. “I said to one of my neighbors there, ‘Did you get my call?’ And she said, ‘No but I got your smoke signals!'”
To read about Bailey’s recent exploits see Bailey Stuck in a Tight Spot.