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Loma Rica ‘knocked back’ by the fire

October 22, 2017 GMT

It started out as a normal night in the Yuba County foothills. Jerry Setters and his partner Ashley Nylander had received word just days before that they are going to have a baby. But the joy of that news was cut short in the earliest hours of Oct. 9 when a fast-moving wildfire swept through the nearby landscape, claiming homes, lives and property along the way.

Unlike some Loma Rica residents, it didn’t take days for them to learn that their home was one of the many that was destroyed that morning. Setters was there as the fire inched closer, eventually claiming their mobile home of seven years and his brother’s home that is also on the property.

“We were one of the lucky ones. The fire only took our house, it took some people’s family members,” Nylander said.

Around midnight, the couple woke up after the electricity had shut off. Both smelt something burning but didn’t know what it could be. A friend of theirs, Michael Cobbold, had rushed over to let them know there was a fire spreading nearby on a ridge.

The couple rushed to gather essentials, let the animals out of their pins and woke up his sleeping brother and kids before evacuating. It was chaos, Setters said.

“We saw more and more cars honking their horns and driving out of town. People had horse trailers and boat trailers and we could hear sirens going off so I knew it was serious,” Setters said. “We could also hear people’s propane tanks exploding every minute or so.”

The blaze was still a ways off but Setters knew the wind could change and the situation could become much worse. He was right.

Shortly after they left, he went back to grab his wallet and found the fire had changed course and it was closing in on his home. He got what he could but the smoke was thickening, causing him to take breaks choking for air and nearly vomiting.

“If we wouldn’t have woke up, we would have probably died from smoke inhalation within 30-40 minutes,” Nylander said.

By the time the fire had died down in the area, Setters went back to find everything they had worked for was gone. The material possessions weren’t what he was most upset about, rather the savings and few items they had recently purchased for the child they are expecting.

“It’s hard just coming back here. The smell alone just makes me sick. I don’t know how we are going to move on after what happened,” Setters said.

Uncertainties remain

Just shy of two weeks since and they’re still unsure what the future holds. With no fire insurance and most of their belongings destroyed, they knew their options would be limited.

The couple has been staying with Setters’ mother in the meantime. They went to the Yuba County Local Assistance Center on Friday to see what options they have and were pleased to walk away with some of their questions answered and stacks of informational packets to sift through.

Nylander said everyone was extremely helpful at the center. They were able to get many of the day-to-day essentials they weren’t able to grab at home from the Red Cross. The Federal Emergency Management Agency outlined what plans were for residents looking to rebuild. They were able to work out a way to regain things like social security cards and birth certificates.

“We were able to pick up everything we needed there,” Setters said.

However, there is a problem. Their mobile home was grandfathered in on Setters brother’s 1 acre of property. But current law requires that residents can only build one dwelling per 5 acres, Setters said, so FEMA is unsure if they will be able to help them rebuild.

“I know the county has been waiving some stuff, but we don’t know if it will work for us. We haven’t been told anything yet so we are waiting to hear if we will be able to rebuild,” he said.

They were told a FEMA inspector would be by to assess their home in the near future. Now, all they can do is wait.

Even if they are given permission to build again, they don’t know if they want to after what they experienced. Since that night, both have had trouble sleeping, waking up from nightmares or anytime they think they smell smoke.

“We are thinking of moving somewhere else, which I think a lot of people have that feeling. I’ve lived here my whole life, but everything just reminds me of what we lost,” Setters said.

Encouraged by community support

If anything good came from the disaster, it was the way the community reacted, Setters said.

Before and after Cobbold came to notify the couple to evacuate, he was also stopping at other residents’ homes to let them know too. He wasn’t the only one to do that either.

Cobbold said neighbors were all helping neighbors get what they could packed as quickly as possible. At nearby gas stations or staging areas, people were checking in on their fellow evacuees and doing what they could to help each other.

“This is such a tight-knit community. Everyone looks out for everyone else to make sure they are taken care of,” Cobbold said. “But this fire is definitely going to change Loma Rica. It probably knocked this area back another 20 years.”

Within the span of about 20 minutes on Saturday while the three were recalling the events of that night at the property just off Loma Rica Road, two different trucks full of residents stopped by to offer water, tools to help clean up and lunch. Nylander said that has been routine since the fire.

Setters, Nylander and Cobbold said the donations and outpouring of support from other Yuba-Sutter community members have been tremendously helpful for them and the many other families impacted by the Cascade Fire.

That, and the fact that they got out with their lives is enough to give them hope for the future.

“Before the fire we were all talking about how crazy everything had become in the world. Then we lost everything, but to see how the community came together to help us and others has really restored my faith in humanity,” Setters said.