Nevada County’s evacuees take stock after homes destroyed by fire |

Nevada County’s evacuees take stock after homes destroyed by fire

A firefighter sprays water onto the McCourtney Fire burning off of McCourtney Road and Polaris Drive.
photo by John Hart

On Tuesday, as some of Nevada County’s fire evacuees were still waiting to return home and take stock, others already knew the worst.

Desiree Pemberton and boyfriend Michael DuPree Burrell were sifting through the rubble of their McCourtney Road home Tuesday afternoon when a series of fire trucks whizzed by, sirens blaring.

Scrolling through his phone feed, a friend noted a new fire had popped up just down the road and they were getting ready to evacuate animals from the Sammie’s Friends shelter.

“Let’s go rescue some dogs!” Burrell told his girlfriend, who responded with a laugh as she pointed out they had nowhere to put them.

The couple said they were struggling to make sense of the total destruction of their home, and also Pemberton’s mother’s, just up the hill.

“Honestly, we thought (the firefighters) would take care of it,” Burrell said, adding that it did not appear there was any effort to battle that blaze, although the neighbor’s house was saved.

The couple heard several big bangs Sunday around midnight, then honking that warned them of the approaching fire. They had time to scoop up their dogs but nothing else.

They didn’t know the house was gone until they saw video of it burning on The Union’s live feed, they said. A photo that ran on the front page of evacuees watching the fire turned out to be Pemberton’s children.

“It’s not going to get easy any time soon,” Burrell said. “Right now, we’re sifting, we’re finding some things here and there. We literally lost everything.”

On Monday, friends of the family had started a GoFundMe page to help.

Burrell is trying to keep their losses in perspective, saying, “I hope nobody got hurt, I hope everybody got out … You can rebuild a house.”

Dan and Carolyn Harbert lost their home of 33 years Monday; Tuesday morning, they were trying to tie up loose ends, canceling utilities and newspaper delivery, among other chores.

A neighbor on Burkard Lane (off Rough and Ready Road) woke them with a phone call at 4 a.m. Monday, Dan said.

The fire “was already right there,” Dan said. “I walked out and could see embers flying over.”

Carolyn shut the cat in the bathroom and they began packing what they could in the dark with only flashlights.

“She said, ‘I’m not leaving till they tell me to,’” Dan said. But after his shop caught fire, he was able to convince her it was time to go.

“We had an hour to get out, that’s all,” he said. “I watched it get closer and closer.”

Like many of those who self-evacuated, the Harberts didn’t know where to go, heading first to Western Gateway Park and the fairgrounds before winding up at their daughter’s house.

And like many evacuees, the Harberts spent the day in limbo, with no idea whether their house had survived.

“They wouldn’t let us in (to the area),” Carolyn said, adding their daughter drove by Monday evening and could tell the house was gone.

Now the Harberts are coming to terms with losing the homestead where they married and generated a lifetime of memories.

“It’s not our greatest loss,” said Carolyn, tearing up as she explained she lost two grandchildren in a fire several years ago. “You can always lose more.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email or call 530-477-4236.

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