Nothing remains of Bill Hilbrandie’s mobile home on what was once a green, wooded 20-acre parcel in Morgan Valley, near where the fierce Rocky fire first ignited.
“It was so green you couldn’t see 100 feet. Now it’s like Hiroshima,” he said.
“I can’t even see where the house was. I expected something to be left over,” said Hillbrandie, a retired PG&E worker and a native of Holland.
“There’s just six inches of ash. That’s all,” he said.
His sister’s home, located down a hill from his on the same parcel, was also destroyed, but there’s at least a brick foundation remaining as proof it once existed.
Neither had fire insurance. Hilbrandie said they purchased insurance when they first built on the parcel in the early 1970s, but the insurance company canceled it, saying it was too much of a fire risk. He only recently learned some of his neighbors were able to obtain fire insurance.
When the fire erupted Wednesday, they had little time to prepare. They fled with just the clothes on their backs, their four dogs and a few documents.
They first went to a shelter set up in Clearlake by the Red Cross, but are now staying with some neighbors who ignored evacuation orders and instead stayed in place, battling flames alongside the firefighters and, in some cases, on their own.
“We’re okay,” said neighbor Lonne Sloan, who lives with her husband and large menagerie animals — birds, horses, llamas, dogs, cats and more — on 342 acres along Morgan Valley Road.
But it was touch and go for a while, with hot spots erupting periodically for days after the fire initially burned through their property, destroying a metal Quonset hut and a number of belongings, including a dump truck, wood splitter and pleasure boat.
“There are hot spots everywhere,” Sloan said. She said firefighters have told her they could persist for another month.
The Sloans’ hand-crafted home was saved, but their once-lush landscape is now stark.
“It looks like we live on the moon,” Sloan said.
But she’s thankful for what she does have and is happy to help Hilbrandie and his sister, who are in their 70s and 80s.
“They are the nicest, sweetest people,” Sloan said. She recalled that, soon after the siblings moved onto the property in the 1970s, they gave her a key to their gate and invited her to stop in any time she was out riding horses and wanted to raid their refrigerators.
The brother and sister are embarrassed that they now need help.
“It goes against their grain,” Sloan said.
But they’re also thankful for the support from the Sloans and others.
“They’re all so helpful,” Hilbrandie said.
Hilbrandie said he has no idea what he’ll do next or whether he’ll ever rebuild on his property. But he does know what he won’t be doing any time soon.
“I know for sure for the first year we aren’t going up there. It’s a sad sight to see,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MendoReporter