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“I Keep Feeling It’s Not Real”: Gold Rush City Residents Count On Devastation From Wildfires | California

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“I Keep Feeling It’s Not Real”: Gold Rush City Residents Count On Devastation From Wildfires |  California

After weeks of fires, smoke, and warnings, Kimberly Price and her beloved city had run out of time.

With the wind blowing the Dixie fire directly into Greenville, Price’s longtime partner, John Hunter, told him he had to go. Price, 58, had spent most of his life in the close-knit community of Sierra Nevada. He couldn’t bear the thought of leaving, but the flames were everywhere.

The Dixie fire is approaching Greenville. Photographer: Courtesy of Kimberly Price

She made Hunter promise to follow her, and then she left Greenville, moving away from the house she had bought for her grandparents, with the butterfly bushes and cherry trees that she carefully tended, away from the house where her granddaughters had spent all of it. his life. Away from the storage unit that contained handmade Christmas decorations and her mother’s belongings, and away from the 92-year-old Hunter store hardware store.

In an hour, most of it disappeared.

Flames engulfed the gold rush town of 1,000 on Wednesday, destroying homes and much of the area’s historic center – a hotel, a bar and the Hunter Ace hardware store. Like Paradise and Berry Creek before it, Greenville became another fire-ravaged Northern California city. Firefighters are still struggling to contain the Dixie fire, which had burned an area of ​​765 square miles (1,980 square kilometers) and was only 21% contained as of Monday. Residents, unable to return home, try to cope with their losses.

Price, driving with her two dogs and a parrot, drove about five miles before hitting the road, overwhelmed with excitement. He had held out in the city for as long as he could. After the first evacuation order came in nearly two weeks earlier, Price stayed behind and spent his days feeding his neighbors’ cats, chickens and rabbits, sending photos of their homes and working at the hardware store. But things worked out Wednesday and a customer at the store, a landmark in the area, warned him that the fire was approaching.

Hunter Ace Hardware Store in Greenville, California.
Hunter Ace Hardware Store in Greenville, California. Photographer: Courtesy of Kimberly Price

“John has been a firefighter for over 45 years. He didn’t think this was going to happen, but the wind picked up and it’s over, ”he said. “I was there until the end and it was horrible. It was like being in a movie. “

Price was evacuated to the nearby town of Quincy, where her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter had also sought refuge. Hunter met with her that same day. And soon, Price learned what he had missed: his daughter House and so many downtown buildings that had been the cornerstone of life in the area, Hunter’s houses and the old store, where his youngest granddaughter worked and where Price had been organizing a new pet section.

John Hunter and Kimberly Price.
John Hunter and Kimberly Price. Photographer: Courtesy of Kimberly Price

Sometimes people would come to the hardware store from out of state, eager to see the historical items that lined its walls, such as indigenous baskets and ancient weapons. It was old-fashioned too: clients still had accounts and Hunter would send them monthly bills drawn up on an old typewriter in his upstairs office.

“We lost all of that,” he said. “All of July is burned. We don’t know what people owe us.” They can’t pay anyway, because they lost everything. “

Price’s own house survived and she is eager to return to it, but does not know exactly what she will return to. “I want to go home. But I feel guilty because my daughter lost everything, my partner lost everything, but my house is still there,” she said through tears. everyone else’s. “

The family is staying with friends in Quincy for now, until they can return home, and are trying to process the trauma of what happened. Price recently broke up on a trip to a mall in Reno.

She said, “It’s starting to hit me, and I just want it not to be real. I’m still in shock and I still feel like this isn’t real. How can you finish an entire city in minutes? “

Kimberly Price's home in Greenville, California, in smoky conditions.
Kimberly Price’s house in Greenville. Photographer: Courtesy of Kimberly Price

Hunter’s insurer canceled the store’s policy last year due to fire risk in the area, and the couple do not plan to reopen it, but are considering staying in town to help rebuild it. Greenville is not like other places, Price says. People care deeply for their community there, he said, even today, a resident who stayed continues to water his garden.

“We are a strong community. We do that for each other, ”he said.

Still, it’s hard to know what the future holds with the fire still burning.

“It’s hard to swallow and it’s not over,” he said. “That whole area is in danger. That fire goes everywhere. It is spreading everywhere. I don’t think they’re going to stop it. I don’t think they can. “

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