After burning for more than week, firefighters hope to have a full handle on the Mountain Fire by Wednesday. It's currently 85% contained after scorching more than 27,000 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest. Residents in the area can begin the clean up process, some of them counting themselves very lucky to have anything left.
The fire came dangerously close to the Yokoji Mountain Zen Center, but miraculously left the buildings untouched. Then, the heavy rains came, flooding freshly burned areas with mud and debris. It stranded cars at the center, but once again left the buildings intact. When evacuation orders were lifted, Abbot Charles Fletcher came back to assess the damage. "It sort of strikes you in waves," said Fletcher. "It's a little difficult to take and then you say, it's doable."
His team began the clean up process, digging themselves out of Mother Nature's mess. It's a welcome job considering what could have been. "A lot of divine help and how the fire moves, so I'm grateful for that," said Fletcher. "Now we can continue with our mission which is to serve the local and international areas."
Forty-two dogs and ninety cats also returned home after the fire forced them to evacuate from the Living Free Animal Sanctuary. The animals and the staff can't thank firefighters enough. "They formed a ring around Living Free," said Sharon Maguire, the executive director. "They saved Living Free."
Now, Maguire can focus on finding home for the cats and dogs. A task made easier by the outpouring of support from people like Jenny Cole, who made a donation to a place she couldn't be happier to see still standing. "I'ts like a miracle," said Jenny Cole, an Idyllwild resident. "It saddens me to see what happened in the high country, but it's really special."
While the clean up continues, Maguire hopes people don't let the fire keep them from seeing the beauty of the mountain. "It still is beautiful even with the charred mountains behind us," said Maguire. "I think it's well worth a trip to see those wonderful animals and to see this land that these firefighters worked so hard to save."
If you'd like to help, here's the information for both centers: