Wildfire has reduced the thick forest of Ponderosa pines that surrounded the park’s Foresta settlement to a smoldering grove of 100-foot lifeless, black spikes.
Sixty-six buildings in the 86-home community lay in ruins this weekend from a 200-foot wall of flame that raced through the area when the wildfires erupted Thursday. But many of the rangers, vacation home owners and park employees who evacuated just a few days earlier already were making plans to rebuild on Sunday.
“The people will want to go back,” said David Riggle, a Yosemite employee and six-year Foresta resident who lost his rented cabin and most of his possessions.
“You’re talking about people who are very, very healthy and very, very outdoorsy. These people are really staunch individualists.”
Sunday night, firefighters told residents that it was still too dangerous for most to return and survey the damage. Fallen logs, some of them four feet in diameter, were strewn across the black-and-white carpet of ash and soot on the forest floor. With water tanks on their backs, crews of firefighters wandered through burned-out parts of Foresta extinguishing the remaining fires, log by log.
Some of the residents are staying with friends elsewhere in Yosemite Valley. Others are housed in Yosemite Lodge. One couple simply moved into a tent next to a friend’s home.
Counselors who converged on Yosemite on Sunday to work with the displaced park residents said members of the Foresta community probably won’t react to their loss in the same way as urbanites might.
“There’s a rugged individualism that we need to pay attention to,” said Rachel Oliver, one of several crisis counselors brought in by Yosemite’s concessionaire, the Yosemite Park & Curry Co. “They have a tendency to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and move on.”
The small community was one of only a few areas of private homes in Yosemite, an island, almost, of private landholdings within Yosemite’s public lands--some older than the 90-year-old park itself. Most of the residences were small, one-story wood cabins, some clustered along dirt roads, others scattered in the wooded hills above them.
Old-timers and newcomers alike said that since the first homeowners moved in around 1900, Foresta has attracted those who love nature and share a pioneer spirit. Foresta’s best known resident, Yosemite historian Shirley Sargent, described the community at an evacuation barbecue this weekend as “a place where you can see nature and talk to squirrels.”
And the fire has not changed that, according to a group of Foresta residents who kept themselves busy Sunday seeing how their neighbors were doing.
“There are times in winter when you get cut off by the snow,” said park carpenter Doug Martin, a 16-year resident. “When it gets like that, it really becomes a tight community because you check in on your neighbors and they check in on you.”
One house on the outskirts of the settlement lay flattened and smoking. Its tallest remaining part was a charred refrigerator. A broken-down, blackened antique fire truck stood among the ashes.
Despite the destruction and the terrifying sight of the raging firestorm, one resident said, Foresta remains as good a place to live as ever. After all, photographer and Yosemite secretary Raye Santos said, fires are a natural part of life in a forest.
“A burned tree is beautiful to me,” said Santos, who was among half a dozen people who raced out of the community just seconds ahead of the flames. “It’s just another form, another stage of nature. We’re lucky to live here and enjoy this natural beauty.”
Riggle said he grabbed what was necessary to survive--sleeping bags, a shovel, water--and lost “a phenomenal book collection,” while his wife lost her lifetime collection of landscape photograph negatives and portraits.
“The next morning,” he said, “I started waking up and every hour I remembered something I wished I had saved. My grandmother’s, you know, savings bonds. . . . “
Staff writer George Ramos in Yosemite contributed to this story.