LOWER LAKE — The charred arms of leafless manzanita bushes reached out Thursday from the blackened earth surrounding Lonne Sloan’s home.
More than 30 years ago, Sloan and her husband built up the place from scratch. On Wednesday, they risked their lives to save it, ignoring a mandatory evacuation order and staying put to battle flames that just spared the Morgan Valley home.
“If we weren’t here last night, we wouldn’t have anything,” said Sloan, a retired road construction flagger. Her husband, Larry, is a metal worker.
They lost a storage building, a horse trailer, a hay truck, wood splitter and a bulldozer that was still smoking Thursday, about 22 hours after the Rocky fire, in a heat-fueled rush, raced over this bone-dry landscape in southeastern Lake County.
By Thursday evening, it had destroyed three structures, damaged multiple outbuildings and burned 10,200 acres.
The toll for the Sloans was steep but not devastating. Their animals — 11 horses, two burros, two llamas and couple hundred birds, including parrots, parakeets, doves, finches and chickens — appeared to be fine and unfazed by the thick smoke hanging over their ranch and the flames that periodically erupted from the brush and ashes.
“To move all of this would be ridiculous,” Lonne Sloan said of the couple’s decision to stand their ground, assisting firefighters with their own 500-gallon firetruck while a friend hosed the home’s deck to ward off sparks.
It was a sleepless, terrifying experience, Sloan said, recounting the property had been at times surrounded by flames.
“We had fires everywhere,” she said.
The scene repeated itself Thursday afternoon for the Sloans, with flames again cropping up on the nearby hillside, prompting another emergency call to firefighters for help.
It represented just one of the many encounters for residents in this rural area with the fast-moving Rocky fire, which erupted Wednesday afternoon in heavy brush and timberland about eight miles east of Lower Lake.
A couple of miles further east from the Sloan homestead on Morgan Valley Road, a family that did obey the evacuation order returned to their property to see what had become of their place and rescue the sheep they had loaded into a stock trailer but then had to abandon because of a flat tire.
The home and sheep, it turned out, had survived.
“We lucked out,” said Marla Antonio, standing at the top of a long dirt driveway that leads down to the family’s ranch.
Still, it seemed no one was entirely out of the fire’s path Thursday, even after being spared once.
As Antonio and her family were returning their 27 Barbados sheep to their pasture, flames resurfaced on Morgan Valley Road above the ranch, crackling through the chaparral. The men watched as the flames moved closer. Marla Antonio jumped in her car and drove up for a closer look.
Her father in-law, Manuel Antonio Sr., said he planned to stay put, along with other family members.
“I’m going to stay for a while,” he said, voicing some confidence he could keep the fire at bay by baring ground before it with a bulldozer.
The family stayed until the last possible moment Wednesday night, when authorities issued orders that affected about 500 residents in the area.