CALISTOGA (KCBS) — When the Tubbs Fire exploded outside Calistoga, it raced over a nearby ridge and into the Franz Valley. Within minutes, it was bearing down on Mayacamas Ranch, a 250-acre resort and retreat center on Mountain Home Ranch Road.
David Levy, the resort’s owner, realized they had no time to spare, and had to evacuate the ranch.
His longtime chef and ranch hand, Miguel Islas, ran door to door, going from cabin to cabin, telling the 18 guests on the property to get out. While others were leaving, Islas rushed to the pool to make sure no one was there, then checked all the cabins again to make sure no one was left behind, like a pilot on a downed airliner.
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By then, it was almost too late for Islas to get out safely himself.
He drove through a wall of fire, as the ranch was consumed by the flames behind him. He told KCBS Reporter Doug Sovern the wind, and the force of the fire, were so strong, it felt like someone was pushing him from behind. His car windows were so hot, he thought his car would explode.
Islas had lived and worked at Mayacamas for 15 years. He kept his life savings of $16,000 in cash, in his room. He was celebrated not just for his giving spirit, but for his amazing cooking, whipping up gourmet meals for the thousands of Bay Area artists, writers, yoga practitioners and others who have been going to the ranch for years.
Now, he’s lost everything.
Sovern brought him back to the ranch this week, and Islas, and Levy, were both stunned by the devastation.
“It’s like a bomb went off. There’s no crater, ” says Levy, “but everything is just incinerated.”
“We have nothing. There’s nothing here,” says Islas. “Nothing of the paradise.”
Levy says Islas is a hero, who saved 18 lives, but the chef says he’s no hero. He stood sobbing as he poked through the ruins of his beloved kitchen, and searched in vain for something he could salvage.
“This was my life. I feel like part of my life is gone,” Islas said. “Seeing my kitchen, I feel like I’m losing a part of my heart.”
Islas did find one thing that survived the flames: a small, terra cotta sculpture of seven people in a circle, arms around each other, holding each other up. Levy says it will be a symbol of renewal, and of whatever rises from the ashes of Mayacamas Ranch.
The fire left Islas homeless, unemployed, and broke. But he’s already looking to a future, of rebuilding and recovery.
“I have my life,’ Islas says. “That’s all that matters. My lives, and the lives of the other people.”
A Gofundme account has been setup to help Islas — https://www.gofundme.com/mayacamas-ranch-chef.
A GoFundme account has also been setup to help the Ranch — https://www.gofundme.com/MayacamasRecovery.