MARIPOSA — In an update on the Carstens fire earlier this week, Mariposa County Fire Chief Jim Wilson referred to the situation as bittersweet.
Standing before the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, Wilson said, "When you travel through Mariposa and see smoke hanging in the air and a rainbow of colored engines and fire equipment parked at the fairgrounds … the bitter part is that something bad is going on … but the good part is that those engines are there and their system is working to help us out."
Of the 1,000-plus residents evacuated from the community earlier this week, most found temporary shelter with family or friends. Less than 50 stayed at the Red Cross shelter located in the multipurpose room of Mariposa Elementary School on Monday night.
During a briefing to the evacuees, Tina Rose, fire inspector with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in San Luis Obispo, said: "In these circumstances, commanders are never optimistic.
"The fire chief thought this would be a fire for the history books, the worst for Mariposa with all the homes in its path to be evacuated. But today he is very optimistic."
Mike Morgan and his sister were alerted Monday morning about 1 a.m. to gather their things and evacuate their home. They live about five miles in from Highway 140 near Triangle Road.
"Four houses sit along our drive. When we left, I saw a light on at one of our neighbors,' " he said. "In case this happens again, we need to have something in place so we can contact each other to make sure everyone's all right."
It took them about an hour to gather belongings. By the time they drove away, ash was falling in the air.
They've lived in the area for six years, since Morgan retired. Previously he has survived hurricanes in Florida, tornadoes in Indiana and earthquakes in California.
"Fire is just another adventure, just part of life," he said.
For those staying at the shelter at Mariposa Elementary, meals were provided by Pioneer Market and Happy Burger. Free coffee came from Starbucks in Oakhurst. Family pets were cared for in another room on campus by the Central California Animal Disaster Team. Naomi Flam, founder and president of the non-profit organization, was contacted by the Red Cross to provide mutual aid.
"Animals feel less stress when their owners are close by," she said. "We're here to take care of their pets, so owners can focus on what they need to."
Dave Swickard is the Mariposa coordinator for the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. He came to the shelter at the request of Cal Fire, to provide radio communication between Mariposa and the Fresno Red Cross office.
A couple of his ham radio buddies had been evacuated and also were there. ARES is a new group that hasn't spent much time in training yet, but the operators were glad to help.
Don Melcher and his wife bought property near Woodland Elementary School seven years ago. Their house has a metal roof and he keeps vegetation cleared. He believes fire danger is a small price to pay for living in heaven, his term for Mariposa.
Investing in a fire pump is on his list of things to do, though, when they get back home, along with making a checklist of what to take if they have to evacuate again.
"We've never been happier than we are here," Melcher said of life in Mariposa. "You have to live appropriately for the land and be prepared, whether it's an earthquake or a fire."
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.