Evac­uees hole up in rav­aged ru­ral town’s bar

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WINE COUNTRY FIRES - By Tr­isha Thadani and John King

RED­WOOD VAL­LEY, Men­do­cino County — On a typ­i­cal evening, McCarty’s Bar in this small com­mu­nity north of Ukiah could be do­ing any­thing from serv­ing a hand­ful of reg­u­lar cus­tomers to host­ing a reg­gae con­cert or ’80s night.

But on Thurs­day, the wa­ter­ing hole served an­other func­tion: in­for­mal evac­u­a­tion cen­ter for peo­ple dis­placed by the Men­do­cino County fires, with do­na­tions pour­ing in from lo­cals.

“It’s bring­ing peo­ple to­gether through tragedy,” said bar­tender Crys­tal Maples, who opened the doors at 2:30 a.m. Mon­day af­ter sprint­ing away from the flames that had erupted in Pot­ter Val­ley.

The scene in this lo­cally owned es­tab­lish­ment — where peo­ple are sleep­ing on air mat­tresses on the dance floor and in RVs parked out­side — cap­tures how a close-knit piece of Men­do­cino has per­se­vered in the face of a fire that af­ter four days re­fuses to fade.

Mea­sured by num­bers alone, the sever­ity of the fires in Men­do­cino County is on a scale with the de­struc­tion to the south. As of Thurs­day, eight peo­ple were known to have died. More than 34,000 acres had burned, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion, and as many as 250 homes had been de­stroyed.

The frus­tra­tion and nerves were on dis­play at a com­mu­nity meet­ing Thurs­day af­ter­noon in the cafe­te­ria at Ukiah High School, an­other shel­ter lo­ca­tion, this one of­fi­cial. More than 200 res­i­dents crowded in, with so many stand­ing that some peo­ple had their backs pressed against the wall.

When county Sher­iff Tom All­man asked if the au­di­ence had any ques­tions, many hands shot up: When can we go back home? When will the ex­tent of the evac­u­a­tion area be re­duced?

“I hear you loud and clear,” All­man said. But “what we don’t want to do is put peo­ple back in and then have to evac­u­ate them again.”

Cal Fire of­fi­cials echoed his con­cern, say­ing a fore­cast of heavy winds for the week­end meant that the fire could dou­ble back over places that have al­ready been hit hard — like Red­wood Val­ley.

Af­ter­ward, a drive through part of the town of 2,000 peo­ple showed the rea­son for cau­tion. What had been a land­scape of trees ac­quir­ing fall colors had be­come de­faced by melted cars, black­ened mail­boxes and gut­ted homes. Some lots still smol­dered.

The one busi­ness that has stayed open this week within the evac­u­a­tion area is Red­wood Val­ley Mar­ket — in part be­cause it’s right across the street from the Fire Depart­ment.

“We’re on the same gas and elec­tric lines as the fire sta­tion, and they want us to stay open,” said Alex Cha­hada, who owns the mar­ket with his brother An­thony.

Pretty much the only sup­plies com­ing in were what Alex could bring from his home in Ukiah — “they’re let­ting us cross the (evac­u­a­tion) line as work­ers” — so per­ish­able food like fresh meat was run­ning low. So was bot­tled water.

The store still opened at 7 a.m., as it usu­ally does, but clos­ing time was 4 p.m., five hours early. There was one worker per shift in­stead of the usual three or four.

“We haven’t had too many peo­ple com­ing in, a cou­ple an hour,” said Brooke Whip­ple, who works at the mar­ket and lives a few miles south in Calpella.

Most of the cus­tomers are fire­fight­ers or po­lice. A few oth­ers live nearby and de­fied the evac­u­a­tion or­ders. One was camp­ing out this week across the street in his car, vis­it­ing the mar­ket to buy food and use the bath­room.

Back at McCarty’s, Maples scur­ried be­hind the bar serv­ing fel­low evac­uees. It felt like any other evening, with plenty of chat­ter and good spir­its. The dif­fer­ence was the alu­minum car­tons of food do­nated from lo­cal restau­rants and the do­nated clothes piled atop the pool ta­ble.

Af­ter clos­ing time, Maples and a dozen or more fire evac­uees would head to the dance floor, where sev­eral air mat­tresses, blan­kets and pil­lows were ready. Oth­ers planned to hud­dle in their cars and RVs out­side. One evac­uee’s horse was sta­bled in the beer gar­den un­til fur­ther no­tice.

“Peo­ple are want­ing to stay close to home,” said Karen McCarty, who bought the bar with her brother two years ago when the pre­vi­ous owner re­tired af­ter 35 years. “It started

by chance, but we’ve be­come an un­of­fi­cial evac­u­a­tion cen­ter.”

Some do­na­tions have been large-scale, such as the pal­lets of water bot­tles and clothes from Soil King, a nurs­ery in Cloverdale. Oth­ers have in­cluded tents and lan­terns from res­i­dents.

“I know that Santa Rosa and other places are get­ting the pub­lic at­ten­tion, and I un­der­stand why,” McCarty said. “But this is a small com­mu­nity. We all know a dozen peo­ple who have lost their homes. We’re stick­ing to­gether.”

Be­sides, there are cer­tain ad­van­tages to an im­promptu refuge like the one on East Road across from a vine­yard, next to G&J’s New and Used.

“At a bar, you can get ca­ma­raderie that you don’t get at Ukiah High School,” McCarty said.

Tr­isha Thadani and John King are San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writ­ers. Email: tthadani@ sfchron­i­cle.com, jk­ing@ sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @Tr­ishaThadani, @JohnKingSFChron

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.