by Lindsay Frankel
A home is more than its four walls. It’s a place in a community where you can feel a sense of belonging. It’s a place where you create memories, establish new traditions, and find peace at the end of a long day. It’s almost inconceivable that a wildfire could rip all that away in a matter of minutes. But that was the experience of homeowners in the Grizzly Flats community when the Caldor Fire destroyed two-thirds of their homes. “It came so fast. We had just enough time to get out and save ourselves,” said one resident.
A Community Ravaged by Fire
The wildfire began on August 14, 2021 near Little Mountain in northeastern California. “This fire basically exploded,” said Paul Schaffer, a volunteer firefighter responding to the crisis. Three days later, the community of Grizzly Flats was mostly destroyed. Evacuated homeowners only had a few minutes to collect their most precious belongings and spent days uncertain about the outcome of their homes.
By the time the Caldor Fire was finally contained two months later, it had completely destroyed more than 1,000 structures. Now, some Grizzly Flats residents are still living in tents or RVs, but they’re determined to rebuild their homes and reclaim their community.
The Miracle of the Surviving Homes
Fortunately, no lives were lost in the Caldor Fire, but the damage to the Grizzly Flats community was devastating. Many homes were burnt down to their foundations. However, a few that had been built with Hardie® siding were left standing in near perfect condition. Volunteer firefighter Dave Manske’s house was one of those homes.
When Paul, another member of the Pioneer Volunteer Firefighters Association (PVFA), went to visit Dave’s house months later he noticed how intact the home exterior was. Dave said, “That’s the original Hardie® Plank.” Paul couldn’t believe how well the house looked. “The house next door was a pile of ash, and his house was perfect,” said Paul.
Fire eats through wood and melts vinyl. However, Hardie® siding is fire-resistant and won’t ignite or warp when exposed to a flame, nor will it fuel a fire. There’s a reason why the product is recognized by fire departments nationwide*. For some residents of Grizzly Flats, Hardie® siding helped keep their homes intact and protected their irreplaceable contents.
The Caldor Fire raised awareness about the importance of building materials in helping protect structures against wildfires. It wasn’t the first California wildfire, and it won’t be the last. So as homeowners in Grizzly Flats rebuild, Hardie® fiber cement siding have become a trusted choice of siding material. They have a long way to go before their homes are restored. Fortunately, in a community like Grizzly Flats, people come together in times of hardship. “It’s a very tight community up here,” said Dan Dwyer, the Chair of the PVFA.
Rising from the Ashes: A Team Effort
If you visit Grizzly Flats now, you’d see workers taking down trees and utility companies trying to get infrastructure back in the area. And an incredible resource has come to life to help members of the community rebuild their homes. James Hardie has partnered with Dan Dwyer to fortify an old schoolhouse with donated Hardie® siding.
With the help of James Hardie and The West Slope Foundation, an organization created to assist Caldor Fire survivors, volunteers converted the 100-year-old schoolhouse into a community tool shed. Residents of Grizzly Flats can borrow these tools, much like a lending library, to use in their construction efforts. Beyond tools, James Hardie is offering a rebate to homeowners affected by the Caldor Fire to help make it more affordable to rebuild.
Despite the scene of blackened trees, there’s something beautiful happening in Grizzly Flats. Neighbors who have lost everything are helping each other to hold onto hope. They’re rising from the ashes and rebuilding their neighborhood with the help of volunteers and support from James Hardie. The Caldor Fire may have temporarily disrupted life in Grizzly Flats, but the resilience and solidarity of the community is permanent.
*Hardie® siding complies with ASTM E136 as a noncombustible cladding and is recognized by fire departments across the U.S. including Marietta, GA, Flagstaff, AZ and Orange County, CA. Fiber cement fire resistance does not extend to applied paints or coatings, which may be damaged or char when exposed to flames.