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Hornbrook, one year after the Klamathon Fire

A year after the Klamathon fire, some residents have moved back, though many have moved on.

Posted: Jul 5, 2019 5:32 PM
Updated: Jul 6, 2019 10:25 AM

HORNBROOK, California -- One year ago today, the Klamathon Fire raced through the community of Hornbrook, California.

One man was killed, and numerous homes were destroyed. A few residents with insurance were able to rebuild, but many have not.

Robert Puckett's nephew surveys the rubble left of their home in Hornbrook, California, days after the Klamathon Fire, July 11, 2018. Mike Zacchino

Phyllis Bear said her husband, 82, used his tractor to drive fire lines around some homes. When she was told to evacuate she refused, saying she needed to know which way the fire was moving so she could safely release their cattle.

“We did not evacuate, we really couldn’t with having livestock, if you had a horse you could put it in a trailer and take it off and out of harm’s way, but with a herd of cows you can’t really do that very fast,” Bear said.

The fire moved through their property, burning fence post in its path. A wind shift changed its path and saved their home.

“Why it changes direction. That wind was whipping it in every direction that you could possibly imagine. You were safe one moment and in danger the next,” she said. It stopped within 100 feet of their driveway.

To Bear, July 5 is more than just another day. 

"It's not good," Bear said. "It's always going to be a bad day, I think. I really do. Maybe time will change it, but it's too fresh right now."

John Colin Skoda was arrested on suspicion of starting the Klamathon Fire, and was charged with seven counts, including Arson, and Involuntary Manslaughter. He is no longer in custody in Siskiyou Count, and his next court date is scheduled for Aug, 1 at 8:30 AM in Yreka.

Bear said old lead pipes from older buildings seeped into the ground when the fire melted them, requiring homeowners to pour a slab foundation in order to rebuild, which is more costly. One couple brought a mobile home on their property. Down the street from them, Andy Herskind’s house was spared.

Part of the backyard caught fire...and his shop was burnt. Herskind was able to get his family and his animals out... including their goat. He credits their massive walnut trees lining their front yard for saving their home.

"If they hadn't been here the house would have gone. There’s no doubt about that" Herskind said.

Herskind had lived there for 28 years when the fire hit. "It’s paid for it's all we have. it would have been a super tragedy to lose it,’ he said a few days later.

Herskind’s neighbor, Robert Puckett, lived a few house down. He was not as lucky.

"We never thought in a million years that the fire would come here," Puckett said. "My wife was going hysterical at that point. There was nothing we could do so we went to our church in Yreka."

“Your house burnt down. Well, that's life, ya know? We just have to pick up and start again,” Puckett said.

Puckett and his family were one of the few that had house insurance. Recently, they finished building a new house. Some windows use sheets for window coverings, but the family was able to move back home.

One year out, locals are still healing from the Klamathon Fire, but they said they're grateful to still call Hornbrook home. 

"What is it about this place that's so calming," Bear said. "It just feels like home, no matter where you come from."

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