Old West Ranch residents Randy and Trace Robey didn’t lose their home in the West Fire.
For that, Trace said she feels “a sense of guilt.”
Bruce Burson, who lost his wife four months ago and lived downhill from the Robeys with his autistic adult son, lost everything.
“This is one of the most tragic stories up here,” Trace said while looking down at Burson’s charred property.
The fire burned on all sides of the Robeys’ property along Summers Drive, but didn’t touch their home.
To them, it was a miracle. But all they can think about are those who weren’t so lucky.
“A lot of us are still in a state of shock,” Trace said. “We never imagined a fire would come through that fast.”
When the fire began the afternoon of July 27, Randy was a mile away from his home.
The fire spread quickly toward his home, and he drove that mile through smoke and flames to get to his house.
The Robeys had cleared a defensible space around their property except for a small patch of weeds that lead the fire to several diesel barrels.
By the time Randy reached the barrels, the diesel inside was “boiling,” but he was able to douse the flames before an explosion occurred.
Trace evacuated to the American Red Cross shelter at the old Jacobsen Junior High.
Randy stayed and used simple garden hoses to fend off hot spots at neighbors’ properties.
On Friday, Aug. 6, Randy was repairing a tractor so he could use it to help clear burnt debris from fellow residents’ lots.
He said life could return to normal in Old West Ranch, even for his neighbor Burson.
“Sure, because everyone is helping him,” Randy said. “We’re all very close. And we’re closer than ever.”
Randy said Bakersfield-based Rimmer Homes had agreed to donate a double-wide trailer to Burson.
Out of the ‘Ashley’
When resident Donna Moran agreed to meet a woman at Kmart to take a fifth-wheel trailer hookup to donate to a family, the woman asked her if she would also be interested in taking a several-week-old female puppy.
Moran said she knew she shouldn’t take the dog. But she also couldn’t say no.
Louie, a dog Moran and her husband, Robert, shared with a neighbor, died in the fire.
Moran placed their other dog, Chance, in a vehicle while the fire blazed around the property.
“I said, ‘He’s either going to die in the car or in the fire,’” Moran said.
Chance did live, but Moran said he hasn’t exactly warmed up to their new puppy, named Ashley after the fire’s wind-blown ashes.
In a way, Ashley is a small representation of a new beginning in Old West Ranch.
The Morans didn’t lose their home, but 23 primary residences were lost in the fire.
“Everyone’s lost something,” Moran said. “Nobody is rebuilding yet.”
During a recent meeting between residents and Salvation Army representatives, people who didn’t lose their homes refused to take clothing and food donations, Moran said.
They wanted all of it to go to those whose homes were destroyed.
Banding together to help the fire’s most needy victims has created relationships, Moran said.
“We’ve lost things, but we’ve gained people,” she said.
Moran said residents have bent over backwards to help one another, though life in Old West Ranch might not ever be the same.
“Not in my lifetime,” she said.
Dealing with squatters, theft
Kern County Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Wood said deputies would help find squatters or other people unlawfully occupying space in Old West Ranch, but would confront them on a “case-by-case basis.”
“We can deal with that if we saw it,” Wood said.
Wood said anyone living or working on property they don’t own would need written permission from the property owner, or the owner themselves would have to notify the Sheriff’s department ahead of time.
One of the biggest issues that has plagued Old West Ranch has been the practice of transporting non-code-compliant trailers, Wood said.
In the past, some people have dragged trailers to vacant lots in Old West Ranch to live on property they do not own, Wood said.
During a community meeting Aug. 2 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall on Tehachapi Boulevard, Kern County Fire Chief Nick Dunn said there was “no way” that squatters and non-property owners would get away with living in Old West Ranch again.
There has also been at least one reported theft at Old West Ranch since the fire started July 27.
Sometime between 6:30 p.m. on July 27 — just over three hours after the fire started — and 7 a.m. on July 29, a chainsaw and a motorcycle were taken from Tim Shirey’s property, Wood said.
Wood said he had no suspects.
“We’ll just have to wait,” he said.