After 12 years of living in North Fork, Jan and Ed Ramos thought they were prepared for an evacuation.
The couple had their most cherished and important valuables packed in boxes. Jan, 65, made sure she had her family photos, while Ed, 69, focused on necessary documents, items and clothing.
Jan decided to take some initiative after last year’s evacuation notice for the Mission Fire had them scrambling to gather everything they needed.
But in the face of the School Fire that burned through vegetation July 10 near the North Fork Recreation Center, even with all the preparations, they still felt afraid. “It’s the unknown. That’s what’s truly frightening,” Jan said.
The couple’s experience with the latest fire was different than the others. They were running errands in Oakhurst when they received news of the blaze, which burned 12 acres. They were away from their home, possessions, two dogs and one cat.
“We didn’t know what we could do, or how bad it was, or anything,” Ed said. “All we could do is see the smoke, it was getting thicker and thicker.”
They darted home as fast as they could and once they made it, the worries only grew. Their Road 230 home was neighboring the fire, so that fact along with the mandatory evacuation notice only exacerbated their fears.
Just as before, their home, which also served as their boat shop business, risked being destroyed.
Also at risk of harm were their pets. The couple learned quickly that loading them into a car was not as easy as boxes of pictures and documents. “They do not want to be in a car. These dogs are not travelers,” Jan said. “If anything would have happened to them, it would have been horrible.”
The couple truly feared they were going to lose nearly everything. Still, Ed said his priority was not anything material that could have burned down with the home. “As you get older, you begin to realize that what really matters is the safety of those you love and yourself,” he said.
Thankfully, the couple and their home were unharmed after what they said was an excellent effort from CalFire, Madera Sheriff’s Department and Sierra National Forest. “Those guys were really on the ball,” Ed said.
The couple opted to stay home and disregard the evacuation notice, believing the team fighting the fire had it under control. But still, “what could have been,” runs through their minds.
Wednesday morning Jan still wasn’t ready to leave home in fear of the fire causing more trouble. “I had an appointment, I had to leave, but I wanted to stay here,” Jan said. “I wanted to make sure everything was OK, that there wasn’t another flare up.”
For another evacuee, fire evacuations are just part of life in the communities of eastern Madera County. Elizabeth Leasum lives in the Bass Lake Mobile Park on Road 230 with her wife and two children.
She calls evacuations a necessary aspect of mountain living. “It’s more of a ‘here we go again,’” Leasum explained. “We’re evacuated for everything every year. It’s fires in the summer, and in the winter it’s the rain.”
Leasum said it has become customary to be evacuated at least once a year. She approaches each one like the last, by staying confident no harm will come to her home or her family.
On the other hand, Leasum’s son and step daughter were terrified, she said, but her confidence helped ease their fears. “It’s just about comforting them and reassuring them that the firefighters are doing their job and everybody is doing their job,” Leasum said.
Because of her confidence in the firefighters, Leasum said she has never feared a fire would be too much for them. That confidence helped her deal with the threat of the School Fire.
CalFire stopped forward progress on the flames Tuesday night and then announced via Twitter that the fire 90 percent contained Wednesday night.