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Bear River shelters River Fire evacuees

The River Fire scorched 2,619 acres. Photo courtesy of Tyler Schaap

The hospitable actions of Bear River community members shine through the lingering smoke following the containment of the River Fire as the Bear River campus housed refugees throughout the evacuation order. 

The fire started on August 4 near the Bear River Campground and began burning towards Colfax until it was contained on August 13. Bear River was converted to an evacuation shelter almost immediately.

“So Wednesday, the day the fire broke; we found out that night that we were going to be an evacuee shelter for the American Red Cross,” said Principal Chris Roberts. “The Red Cross showed up that night along with the Office of Emergency Services here in Nevada County and [they] held a staging area for any evacuees from the fire. [They] started taking names, taking vouchers for hotel rooms and things for people to stay. But once those ran out, people that didn’t want to go down to the hotels actually just stayed here in our parking lot, in RVs, or some of them just had tents in our parking lot.”

Although the American Red Cross headed the operation, the Bear River maintenance team helped out wherever they could.

“A big shoutout goes to our school staff,” said Mr. Roberts. “Our custodial and maintenance crew were incredible. They stepped up, stayed longer hours, did things that they had never been asked to do before, to take care of issues that would pop up here and there, concerns and issues that the Red Cross had, concerns and issues that the office of emergency services had. They stepped up in a big way to do some pretty amazing things as well as on our campus to help the people here.”

The rest of the Bruin staff did their best to contribute to the effort, even some who were evacuees themselves.

“Our office staff were amazing as well,” Mr. Roberts said. “Ms. Peterson and all of our office staff did a great job in stepping up and helping out. We had some other staff members that were here wanting to know how they could contribute and help. We had staff members that were affected by the fire, fortunately they didn’t lose their homes, but they, despite the fact that they were evacuated, still stepped up and helped out. A huge kudos goes out to the staff at Bear River for those who participated and helped out in any way during the evacuation.”

Many Bruins were evacuated and reflected on their time away from home.

“I went to my friend’s house, Luke Corkery,” said Junior Joseph Knox. “I have a dog and two pigs and my dad was able to go get them out. I think it was like three or four days when they let us back in. There was ash covered everywhere.”

“I went to my family friend’s house in Alta Sierra, closer to my house,” said Junior Colin Lunsford. “I have four dogs and I was able to get them all out. I got one, my mom got two, and my dad got one. [It took] about an hour or so.”

Bruins looking in the rearview reflected on the most difficult part of being evacuated.

“Not knowing whether your house got burned down or not,” said Knox.

“Probably the homesickness, the sense of not feeling home,” Lunsford said.

Bruins wanted to thank the firefighters for their work to contain the fire and save buildings.

“I’m friends with the principal over at Colfax High School, Paul Lundberg,” said Mr. Roberts. “He was talking about how his site was affected. He sent me pictures of flames 100, 200, maybe 300 yards away from his school. He told me that, at one point, there were quite a few firefighters on his campus, protecting his campus. He, at one point, saw all of them get a call and just run right into the fire. It takes a special person to be able to do something like that and put their life at risk for others’ lives.”

“Thank you and I wish you would’ve taken the cookies we brought down,” Knox said.

“I would like to say thank you for everything you’ve done for us,” said Lunsford. “It’s very much appreciated by everyone who lives by me and myself.”

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Bear River shelters River Fire evacuees