EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — The Dixie and Caldor wildfires burned more than one thousand structures each and are among the top 15 largest in California history, with the Dixie Fire being the second-largest.
Six months later, the public attention has faded, but the private agony remains.
People who lost everything are still facing extreme challenges. And, in many cases, the federal government refuses to help.
“We would have kids everywhere. We had a trampoline over here; the kids would spend hours on that. Parents would all be here,” explained Jennifer McKim-Hibbard. “It was just a safe environment, where we didn’t have to worry.”
McKim-Hibbard was living her dream life until it was taken away.
“We had some good memories here … It’s like seeing a family member’s death,” she said.
McKim-Hibbard’s home was swallowed by the Caldor Fire along with hundreds of other homes in Grizzly Flats.
“There is no emotion to explain that,” she told FOX40.
A walk down her street still fills the senses, but familiar faces have been replaced by the reality of August 2021.
McKim-Hibbard told FOX40 she acknowledges the destruction because for better or worse it’s part of her life now.
“I can’t explain, but I crave being up here,” McKim-Hibbard said. “Being away from here is hard every day because there’s this pull to be at home.”
And, McKim-Hibbard isn’t alone.
“I always dreamed about living up here,” Tabatha Walker said.
Years before Walker moved to this small mountain town, she knew Grizzly Flats is where she wanted to be. She also lost her home in the fire.
Walker knows when it’s time to move back, not everyone will return.
“Some days, it’s hard to see what your friends are going through, and some can’t rebuild because of insurance, underinsured and all that,” Walker said.
Help in Grizzly Flats is a mixed bag.
These days the sounds of assistance come from heavy machinery and community-based organizations.
But, financially, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied money to people here. Many people believe the reason is the number of second homes in this area.
As people finish rebuilding their new homes on the scorched land, their scenery and view will have changed drastically. No longer will they get lush trees to look at, instead they will see charred trees.
The destruction of nature is also a reminder that the area cannot burn again for a while, and it may be enticing to those who might want to call Grizzly Flats home.
“There have been people selling homes up here, trying to use that as a selling feature, ‘one of the safest areas in the mountains you can live now because the fire already passed through,'” explained Kim Gustafson of the Grizzly Flats Community Services District.
Gustafson said the hope is that some residents who lost their homes may be able to finish rebuilding and move back by the summer.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want to wait to see it return to its former glory because they don’t feel like they have that time left to wait for all the regrowth,” Gustafson explained. “And then there are some who are happy to have extended views across the canyon. So, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly it repopulates, but we have a good indication of some who want to return right away.”
Although challenging, a rebirth in Grizzly Flats can also come with some perks.
“All I know is that I want my kitchen window to be right about here. That’s the only thing I have in the works for my future home,” McKim-Hibbard told FOX40.
McKim-Hibbard is also a member of the West Slope Foundation, a nonprofit that helps fire victims.
While neighbors may change, the reason for living in Grizzly Flats will stay the same.
“Grizzly Flats is home; it doesn’t matter what this community looks like,” McKim-Hibbard said. “It will always be home.”
Saturday, West Slope Foundation will hold a silent auction event at the Skinner Vineyards in Somerset to help raise money for Caldor Fire victims. Click or tap here for more information.