Carmen George

Good-hearted neighbors offer help in face of wildfire

As one North Fork resident described a growing wildfire, threatening to destroy her home this weekend: “The worst is bringing out the best in people, it’s amazing.”

That was Barbara Grow, 64, reflecting on all the people who offered to shelter her and her husband or fight the Willow fire — dare it start moving towards their mountain home.

On Monday morning, the wildfire that started Saturday afternoon had charred more than 1,500 rural acres southeast of Bass Lake and was just 5% contained.

On Saturday, at the Grows’ place, a good Samaritan arrived ready to help.

The man, who doesn’t want to be named, came barreling into their driveway with a 2,000-gallon water tanker truck after hearing his wife’s friend was in despair. Grow was in a frenzy packing vehicles with keepsakes, anticipating a possible evacuation in the shadow of a mushroom cloud of smoke rising nearby.

The wind ended up pushing the fire further into the forest, away from most houses. But, for Grow, just having the good-hearted man bring the water tanker to her driveway saved the day.

She cried, talking about what it meant to her — how the man risked his own safety on her behalf.

“He just knew that his wife’s friend was crying and there was a fire.”

North Fork resident Volney Dunavan provided a narration for this good deed.

“This community pulls together, and it’s not just for fires, it’s for everything,” Dunavan says. “The fact that the water truck showed up at Barbara’s — that’s North Fork.”

With each new wildfire in the Sierra foothills that I’ve reported on, or witnessed as a girl growing up here in eastern Madera County, I’m heartened by people like this water tanker driver, who come to the rescue.

One of my earliest memories is my mom coming to the rescue, as she has done in so many ways. While watering plants outside, she spotted a plume of smoke. A neighbor had sparked a vegetation fire while welding, and as he struggled to extinguish it with a garden hose, my mom ran down the street with a shovel and started cutting a fire break on their property so the flames wouldn’t spread to a nearby home.

The experience made her want to become a volunteer firefighter, what she’s done for the past 20 years.

In North Fork this weekend, I saw more people who were again selflessly offering their help like my mom.

“I can’t even tell you how many offers we’ve had to take us and our animals,” Grow says. “It’s very heartwarming.”

Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who has lived in North Fork since 1959, received a flood of similar offers.

“It’s not only in North Fork, it’s all over the mountains,” Wheeler says. “When there are disasters like this, it seems like everyone steps up to the plate and starts helping each other.”

These are common sentiments in the face of tragedy, but they are true. And, I may be biased here, but I know the generous spirit of these mountain people well, and they never cease to amaze me. In the face of danger and tragedy, there are brave and compassionate souls willing to help. This was true at the Willow fire this weekend and will always be true. At least, I sure hope so.

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

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