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In Groveland, Community Healing Puts Rim Fire in the Past

Nine months after the Rim Fire tore through the nearby forest, Kevin Reynolds and Randi Jones decided to live out a dream.

Reynolds: "We kind of wanted to rise from the ashes just to let people know there are still opportunities out there."

The two of them opened an old-fashioned meat market they had envisioned before the fire hit. Instead of being scared by the fire the couple says they were inspired.

"We kind of wanted to rise from the ashes just to let people know there are still opportunities out there," says Kevin Reynolds.

Reynolds: The fire really didn’t affect our decision to open a meat market.  We knew that there may be some issues but people still need to eat.  

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Randi Jones and Kevin Reynolds of Kevin and Randi's Old Fashioned Meat Market in Groveland.

Highway 120 into Yosemite National Park at one point is downtown Groveland. It’s lined with restaurants, hotels and mom and pop shops that depend on tourist traffic to stay alive. When the blaze hit the tourists left. Any other community could have been devastated, but Groveland stood strong. It’s partly because people like Lydia Berwick stayed and kept serving lattes at Mountain Sage Cafe.

Berwick: This whole season last year, I saw, you know, life, and then once the fire happened, it was just gone. The fear was, what about next year? Are people going to still want to come when part of the forest is destroyed?

She remembers what it was like when the fire hit.

Berwick: It was just mass chaos. The previous night we had seen the canyon and it looked like Mordor.  

Berwick isn’t the only one who stayed. Saul Gonzalez owns Cocina Michoacana, a Mexican Restaurant just down the street from the cafe. He says the fire came within 100 yards of his home.

Credit Diana Aguilera / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Saul Gonzalez never closed his Groveland restaurant, Cocina Michoacana, even as flames threatened his home.

Gonzalez: It was scary. Good thing we have a second home in Sonora, so we moved down there. We never closed the restaurant.

When the flames blew towards town, Ann Schafer saw clients empty out of her four bed-and-breakfasts.

Schafer: Oh, they did of course eventually cancel, and the cancelations were replaced by the reporters. After the reporters left then it was a difficult time.

But it wasn’t only her business that she was afraid she’d lose. She pointed to her ranch on a map of the burned area.

Schafer: Do you see how close it was? Romero: Yeah, you were really close, 2 miles. Schafer: Yup, 2 miles from the fire. So when it went around like this, I breathed a real sigh of relief.

After the worst was over and the air cleared a little, Groveland was hit by another disaster: the federal government shutdown, which closed national parks like Yosemite and again kept traffic out of town. 

That’s when it hit home that no matter how much the residents rely on out-of-town guests, they still have each other. Once again, Kevin Reynolds.

Reynolds: People are going to go out and support someone that’s trying to build something after there’s been such a horrible situation like that.

"In Groveland, you just realize you're a part of nature. We are hardy people." - Ann Schafer

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Ann Schafer feared that the All Seasons Groveland Inn, pictured above, and her other bed-and-breakfasts would go under when the fire hit.

This community that’s standing together recognizes they only have so much control over their livelihoods. Ann Schafer has been in the bed-and-breakfast business since 2002.

Schafer: In Groveland, you just realize you’re a part of nature. We are hardy people. We just take what comes and actually we probably live with nature better than most.

As the town comes back to life this summer and into the fall, residents say they will always be aware the next big fire could just be a canyon away.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
Diana Aguilera is a multimedia reporter native of Santiago, Chile. It was during her childhood in Santiago where her love for journalism sparked. Diana moved to Fresno while in her teens and is a proud graduate of California State University, Fresno. While earning her degree in journalism and minor in Latin American studies, Diana worked for the Fresno Bee. Her work as a general assignment reporter continued after college and was recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. In 2014, she joined Valley Public Radio. Her hobbies include yoga, traveling and reading.
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