Buck Minitch left his grueling job with Cal Fire this summer to join the local Pioneer Fire Protection District, hoping to spend more time with his wife, Hannah, and their two daughters, exploring the woods around their mountaintop home in El Dorado County.
But three days after the Caldor Fire broke out, the Pioneer Fire chief called Buck to the fire lines, while his wife fled their tiny community of Grizzly Flats with the girls, three dogs, a kitten and a duffel bag of clothes.
Hannah was staring up at the oak trees the next morning on her parents’ property where she’d evacuated about 70 miles south when she got the text from her husband. It was a photo, showing a chimney rising up where their house used to be.
When he called seconds later, she was already crying. “It’s all gone,” he said.
“‘We’ve got nothing left here,’” she recalled him saying. “‘I’ve gotta go protect what’s left for other people.”
“Most of these firefighters, you’re not going to be able to keep them away from the job, even if they’ve lost their home,” said Capt. Keith Wade, a Cal Fire spokesperson assigned to the Caldor Fire. “There’s a certain personality that does this job, a fortitude to continue with the mission.
“You have to put everything on hold — the grieving process of your home — but I’m waiting to have that together as a family,” Hannah said. “I want him home. I want to talk to him. Like, ‘Where’s your head at? Oh my gosh, we lost everything.’”
As of Wednesday evening, the blaze was 12% contained as crews braced for temperatures to creep up throughout the end of the week. To the north, the Dixie Fire — which has been burning since mid-July — now covers a stunning 735,000 acres across five counties, an area more than twice the size of Los Angeles. It is about 45% contained.