Chester – A maze of dirt roads led to the iron gates of Keefer Ranch.
Since July 13, a little rain has blessed those fighting Dixie Fire. Tuesday afternoon the road was littered with shallow puddles. Smoldering debris from a nearby controlled flashback casts a veil of light smoke throughout the surrounding forest.
Every building on the grounds of Kiefer Ranch, Plumas County’s first home, remains intact. The oldest building – a barn built by the Dotta family in 1867 – is still high. It is considered the oldest barn in California.
The long history of the barn and the rest of the Keefer Ranch was worth the savings for a group of eight men. The flames of the Dixie Fire were approaching and were a bit too close and uncomfortable, so the group gathered to protect the barn and other grounds and keep a close watch.
“The fire was frightening, even five miles away,” said Felix Gonzalez, foreman at Keefer Ranch. “I’m not scared anymore. I was scared the first day.
The Dixie fire has already burned more than 240,000 acres and destroyed 42 structures. As of Friday morning, 10,657 buildings remained at risk.
Gonzales, who lives in Durham, has been a ranch manager for almost 18 years. In addition to the barn, the property also has two other annexes and a large house (Gonzales house built in 1998). He has worked for the Honing family for 35 years.
Swiss and Italian immigrants Anton and Josephine Dotta built a mansion just outside Chester in 1867. One of his daughters, Mary Dotta, married William Keefer de Chico and was called Keefer Ranch.
The ranch was a dairy farm. The hay used to feed the cows was also harvested from the field.
The ranch is currently owned by Chuck Honing. Today’s ranch consists of a lake filled with trout, a collection of bee crates, and open, calm land.
From the outside, the barn looks unpretentious. However, when viewed from the inside, the intricate wooden beams above the head have over 100 years of history and craftsmanship.
âI feel comfortable doing whatever I need to do,â Gonzes said. “I’m trying to save all the little pieces they have.”
Gonzales said he was concerned when Dixie Fire began to sneak near the property.
âI didn’t sleep for a few days, fearing that I would lose my home,â Gonzales said.
According to Gonzales, the orange spark of the Dixie Fire flame was visible from afar.
Henry Lomeli of Sacramento River Ecotours is a close friend of the owner of Keefer Ranch. Romeri turned to his friends Steen Henriksen and Steve Graham for help. The cavalry arrived with a lynx tractor, a mini excavator and a water tank.
âWe stopped doing what we were doing to attend the party,â Graham said.
Henriksen arrived with a water tank filled with 325 gallons. They used water to spray the exterior walls of the barn every few hours to protect them from the embers. They took a pile of junk and created a barrier along the base in case the embers exploded.
Burnt pine needles and ashes can still be seen strewn across the patio of the house.
Gonzales also turned to two friends for help. This group is Romeri, Henriksen, Graham, Gonzales, C. It was made up of Bryan Graves, Victor, Benito Estrada and Alejandro Camio. None of them are firefighters.
âWe are funny. We are friends (of Romeri) and we can do almost anything, âsaid Henriksen. “If a friend asks you for help, you go.”
The group worked from sunrise to sunset to make the ranch as safe as possible. They cut tree branches, put logs away, and tried to create as much defensive space between the buildings as possible.
âWhen the pine needles on the ground caught fire, I lowered my limbs so I wouldn’t climb trees,â Graham said.
The barn had already escaped the fire in 2008, Henriksen said. The only damage was a slight burn in the lower rear corner of the building.
Henriksen said he liked old buildings. Square nails and wooden dowels support the board and organize the structure. The barn now houses all manner of antiques, including handmade hay and washing machines from the 1920s. He couldn’t help but be completely in awe of the barn.
âIt’s like a cathedral,â Henriksen said. âIt’s quite impressive.
One night Henriksen said the fire was about a mile away. They saw a tree burning in the distance.
âAt that point, I suddenly felt it was a little different,â Henriksen said.
Henriksen said he was already planning to bring five planks of wood from the barn if he evacuated “so he can leave historical works.”
Henriksen lives in Chico and Graham lives in Magalia. The two saw the amount of destruction the wildfires have caused in Butte County. They came to help because they didn’t want to see the most historic buildings burned down.
âWe have to win one,â Henriksen said.
Romeri also acknowledged the work of private timber company Collins Pines in forest management of the surrounding trees near Keefer Ranch.
âIt’s a special place in California pioneer history and it’s worth the sacrifice,â Romeri wrote in an Instagram post. âSome things have value and are worth the savings. Keefer Ranch is one of those places.
Gonzales said Keefer Ranch is now safe from the fire and believes he will return soon. Gonzales and other groups remained at the scene for more than 10 days, monitoring the blaze.
âI am very proud of the house. I thought we were going to lose everything, âGonzales said. âWith the help of all this, it’s beautiful. We think we’ve done a tremendous amount of work.
When Dixie fire threatened, 8 men fought to save 154-year-old California barn – Times-Herald When Dixie fire threatened, 8 men fought to save 154-year-old California barn – Times-Herald