Special Sections : West Fire

Tuesday, Aug 03 2010 09:28 PM

Can't call these dudes victims

On Tuesday, fire took everything George Plesko had.

By Thursday, he was starting over.

“I'm going to try to get my well going today,” Plesko said outside the Red Cross evacuation center at the old Jacobsen Junior High School, where he met up with his sister Helen DeSmet and niece Sarah DeSmet as they left to return to Whittier.

He had been shopping for pipes and other building materials.

“I have a sleeping bag and I'll start camping,” he said. “That's how it all started 25 years ago.”

He and his sister laughed about his first venture at the Snowshoe Court property.

“What the hell is a septic tank?” he quoted himself as saying back then.

Under a shady tree in the Jacobsen parking lot, Plesko joined in a prayer circle with Helen, Sarah, his girlfriend Sandy McDaniel and her grandsons Caleb Hackett, 5, and Joshua Hackett, 9. (photo on A1.)

Sandy lifted up their gratitude, thanks and hope in her prayer.

Fruit trees

Not far from Plesko's property, Virginia Sheridan and Bill Lee have assessed the damage to their property that lies between Snowshoe Lane and Snowshoe Court: gone are a camping gazebo with decking and an antique wood burning stove, the power shed with solar, batteries and well-drilling equipment, a trailer, tools, fire pumps and a propane refrigerator.

“The fruit and nut trees we might be able to save,” Sheridan said. “And the cedars along the road.

“We lost a lot of the irrigation system. We have one spigot that works. The well is no good.”

Lee has been hauling in water from the agricultural water source at Highline and Dennison to fill up the tank.

Sheridan and Lee, whose home is in town, began the work of renewal as the smoke cleared.

For them and other residents of this 5,000-acre mountainous enclave, the devastation from a fire is an obstacle that can be overcome.


At Old West Ranch, it's hard - if not impossible - to get a mortgage or homeowners insurance. The banks don't like you being off the electrical grid and the insurance companies don't like you being more than spitting distance from a fire hydrant.

The only utility at Old West Ranch is a telephone line, and that's melted.

The entire way of life goes against the ecologically correct objective of living in orderly colonies where people can walk everywhere, share walls and sip lattes on the corner.

Old West Ranch is just too unruly.

It's a bit chaotic and unregulated.

It's a bit scary, with people tucked away God knows where amongst the trees doing God knows what.

And darn, when that fire hits every hundred years, it costs the taxpayers a bundle to douse it.

What you get at Old West Ranch is heart.

The 150 residents have chosen to meet nature on nature's own terms.

So there's six feet of snow on the higher roads some years.

So you have to rely on your neighbors in an emergency.

Old West Ranch residents live modestly and gently on the earth, with their solar panels, home wind turbines, generators and vegetable gardens.

They do things for themselves.


The citizens of Tehachapi have shown overwhelming love and concern to the people caught up in the West fire.

The inhabitants of Old West Ranch are responding by getting back to the ranch, back to the remnants of their homes that may have been humble, and back to the earth, to start anew like the green sprouts that soon will be bursting through the barely cooled ashes.

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