Nine reasons to remember 2017 in Nevada County (VIDEO) |

Nine reasons to remember 2017 in Nevada County (VIDEO)

The Union staff

From January’s record rainfall that swelled creeks, rivers and reservoirs to the tall, thick golden grasses that burned in a furnace of flames fanned by October winds, Mother Nature put western Nevada County to the test this year.

In bringing this forested community’s worst fears front and center, the night of Oct. 9 won’t soon be forgotten, even after the ash heap of homes destroyed are themselves just a memory. As we look back, before embarking on a new year, the threat, devastation and trauma in the path of the Lobo and McCourtney wildfires lead the top stories of 2017.


The two local fires got burning before midnight, meanwhile many more were also raging all across Northern California. Winds gusting at 60 mph fueled fires that killed 42 people across the north state and consumed more than 8,000 structures.

The Lobo and McCourtney fires destroyed 22 homes in Nevada County, leading about 40 people — homeowners, renters and their families — to approach officials and seek help in their wake.

Thick smoke dominated the sky, and the pall from the Lobo Fire could be seen from miles away. The blaze led to mandatory evacuations, causing thousands of Lake Wildwood and Rough and Ready residents to flee their homes with pets and prized possessions.

Waiting for traffic to budge, Marta Weeks left her car to see if anyone needed help. She had extra space in her vehicle, and could have held more people or property.

Nearby she saw a woman who appeared to be in her 80s.

Then, to Weeks’ surprise, the elder woman began comforting her.

The Weeks did make it out, arriving at First Baptist Church — a designated shelter — that morning. They were two of an estimated 8,000 forced to evacuate. Another 1,430 people in the Lake Wildwood and Rough and Ready areas fell under an advisory evacuation, officials said.

The Lobo Fire burned 821 acres in the Rough and Ready and Lake Wildwood areas by the time it was contained. The McCourtney Fire, near the Nevada County Fairgrounds, reached 76 acres. The two blazes were classified as part of the Wind Complex fires, along with the Cascade (9,989 acres) and LaPorte (6,151) acres in Butte and Yuba counties.


One of the wettest winters in recent memory spilled into the new year and wreaked havoc in the form of flooding and sinkholes that took weeks and months to recover.

According to the National Weather Service, Grass Valley saw 25.93 inches of rain, a little more than 3 inches short of the 1909 record of 29.10 inches for January.

By month’s end, Nevada Irrigation District officials said they’d recorded 74.91 inches for the water year at 4,000-foot elevation Bowman Lake, which brought the water year (since June 1) totals to 214 percent above normal.

Lefty’s Grill in Nevada City was twice shut down due to the flooding of Deer Creek. Grass Valley’s public works department reported portions of Brunswick Road slipped approximately 12-15 inches or more from the opposite lane. And a massive sinkhole, 100 feet deep and 80 feet in diameter, opened up on Freeman Lane in Grass Valley when a Wolf Creek culvert failed.

That sinkhole took nearly a year to finalize repair work, which officials said in December had cost the city $2.2 million and is expected to rise.


In February, the scene at the Nevada County Fairgrounds resembled a refugee camp, where those who took shelter escaped the terror of what was feared to be imminent failure of the Oroville Dam’s spillway.

“I’m happy to be here rather than under the water of the dam,” said Marysville’s Donna Keeling, while sitting on a cot lent to her by a good Samaritan. Keeling arrived at the fairgrounds at 2:30 a.m. Feb. 13 along with her caretaker Linda Iturriza. After enduring the three-hour drive to get here, the pair was driving around the Kmart parking lot looking for a restroom when they called the Grass Valley Police Department and learned of the evacuation center at the fairgrounds.

Keeling and Iturriza are two of nearly 1,000 people who evacuated to the fairgrounds, one of several designated centers across the region for the 188,000 people who fled areas beneath the Oroville Dam.


On July 1, three women, one of them Grass Valley’s Jillian Smith, waited on stage to learn which of them would become the next Miss California.

Smith, who’d never made it to the top 15 before Saturday night, didn’t know what to expect.

And then they said her name.

“As soon as they said my name — the whole moment is kind of a blackout blur,” said Smith, 22. “I was shaking. I was so excited.”

Taking the crown in a ceremony held at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Fresno, Smith advanced to compete in the Sept. 10 Miss America competition.

“This is something I’ve wanted since I was 5,” she said.


After the final seconds ticked off the clock and the initial jubilation subsided, Bear River’s senior fullback Austin Baze, a four-year varsity player, remained crouched on the field, overcome with joy.

He and his fellow Bruins had done what very few — other than the cardinal and gray faithful — thought possible. They had beaten their bitter rival Colfax 30-27 and won the 2017 Sac-Joaquin section Division V Championship.

The Nov. 24 win was the culmination of a long journey for Baze and his fellow Bruins. That journey included a playoff-qualifying overtime win over Center in the season finale, which spurred three more consecutive wins for the section crown. Bear River fell to host Fortuna 34-20 in the CIF NorCal 5-A Regional Bowl Game.


In late September, at least 1,000 people — ranging from babies in arms to seniors in wheelchairs — came out to show a local family, and each other, the power of community.

Toting signs that proclaimed “No to intolerance, yes to diversity” and “Do not be silent Fight hate,” and chanting “We are together! We are together!” the crowd flashed peace signs during a “love walk” organized via social media after Jamal Walker took to Facebook to express his sadness over a racist incident involving his son, Imani.

Jamal Walker repeatedly told well-wishers that he knew the community stood behind him — but that Imani needed to see that. Surrounded by friends, Imani seemed to have gotten that message loud and clear.

“It definitely changed my whole view on this community,” he said. “I feel that I’m meant to be here. I never felt like I was part of the community before today.”


Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County have all seen change in their top leadership this past year and into the next.

Bob Richardson in January announced his resignation as Grass Valley city manager, returning as Auburn’s city manager, the same role he held before his 2014 hiring in Grass Valley. Tim Kiser was named his replacement in September.

Mark Prestwich stepped down as Nevada City city manager in June, taking on the same role in St. Helena. Nevada City named Catrina Olson as interim city manager. In early December, Olson and four other candidates were the remaining applicants for the position.

On Dec. 22, Nevada County CEO Rick Haffey announced his pending retirement in 2018 after 14 years in the role.


Grass Valley family hip-hop artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo won his first Grammy Award in February for Best Children’s Album for 2016’s “Infinity Plus One.”

The Nevada County artist, whose real name is Joel Sullivan and is known as Cactus Skidoo to his friends, was nominated in the same category in 2015 for “The Perfect Quirk.”


Bear River High School graduate Adrian Molina’s film “Coco” earned a Golden Globe nomination for best animated film in December.

Molina graduated from Bear River High School and later studied character animation at the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita.

“I always loved animated films when I was growing up,” he said.

Molina got his foot in the door at Pixar more than a decade ago, when he landed an internship doing story art for the animation studio.

Later, Pixar hired him as a full-time story animator.

“Coco” has two nominations for the upcoming Golden Globes, one for best animated film and one for best song. The Golden Globes will air at 5 p.m. Jan. 7 on NBC.

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