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Doyle Residents Reflect On Disastrous Beckwourth Complex Fire

The Beckwourth Complex Fire formed after two fires burning in Northern California merged early this month. The blaze burned more than 105,000 acres and swept through the small town of Doyle, destroying more than 30 homes. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck spoke to residents to find out how they’re doing.

Located between Reno and Susanville, Doyle has roughly 600 residents. The town is surrounded by desert on one side, along with mountains and charred forest on the other.

Beverly Houdyshell and her family have lived in Doyle for generations; she’s a descendant of the man the town was named after. But in mid-July, she had to evacuate her home of almost 40 years.

“I just had to grab my oxygen and still didn’t take all of it ‘cause I just wanted to get out of here. It’s no [saying], ‘Wait a minute,’ you know, not with that fire coming at you; you gotta get going and go fast,” Houdyshell said.

Along with her oxygen, the volunteer fire department helped Houdyshell grab some of her photos and her dogs, but she lost her home, trailer and several small structures on her property.

“Knowing that all of that is gone and no longer there for the grandkids or anybody to enjoy, ‘cause they used to have fun there, you know, running in and out and playing all around, it’s really difficult,” Houdyshell said.

For now, Houdyshell is staying at the home that belonged to her late mother in Doyle. Due to several health complications and a fixed income, she said it will take years to rebuild, but she’s committed to doing so. Doyle has been her home since she was born in 1943.

“I always loved Doyle and it’s a nice little place to live. We don’t have them fancy stores that you shop at, but we always made out,” Houdyshell said.

Doyle resident Michael Snook also lost his home, and ranch, in the fire.

Michael Snook holds a red leash attached to his dog, Tank. They are in the forefront looking at the camera. Behind them is the outline of a car and home that are badly burned and melted.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Michael Snook and his one-year-old dog, Tank, stand in front of Snook’s home and Prius that burned in the Beckwourth Complex Fire in Doyle, Calif., on July 22, 2021.

“It burned so hot there’s not much left. That was literally a desk. That’s the refrigerator that doesn’t really look like anything. You can see the kitchen stove; this is recognizable,” Snook said.

Standing in Snook’s driveway is what used to be a red Prius. Everything but the outline of the car and seats is melted. As for Snook’s home, the most recognizable part is the brick walls. The roof, front door and windows are gone.

“I need to go in there, but I’m not really anxious, you know. This was my home, so my sister’s ashes are in there somewhere, all your personal stuff. It’s a little weird; you wake up and you realize you don’t have a pair of toenail clippers, or a toothbrush, or another change of clothes. We’ll get used to it,” Snook said.

Michael Snook stands knee-deep in burned and blackened rubble. In the background are charred hills.
Credit Michele Ravera / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Michael Snook surveys the damage from the Beckwourth Complex Fire at his ranch in Doyle, Calif., on July 22, 2021. Snook was in the process of turning shipping containers at his ranch into workshops for artists.

Along with losing more than 30 homes during the Beckwourth Complex Fire, Doyle was also hit hard by the Laura 2 Fire about eight months ago. GoFundMe accounts were created for victims of both fires.

Kathy Catron is the chief of the Doyle Fire Protection District. She said Doyle lost about 50 homes in under a year.

“There’s a lot of emotion because a lot of people lost their homes. They lost their livelihoods, their everything,” Catron said.

Kathy Catron is looking at the camera with a stern look. She’s standing outdoors in front of a door with the Doyle Fire Protection District’s logo, which includes a lizard in a yellow firefighting hat climbing up a ladder.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Doyle Fire Protection District Chief Kathy Catron at the station in Doyle, Calif., on July 22, 2021.

Catron has 16 volunteers, all Doyle residents. Her team helped people evacuate and defended structures, all while caring for their own families.

“I mean, we were all evacuated; all my volunteers were evacuated. Some have children, and a lot of them, I have both spouses part of the fire department. So one left with the kids, and the other one stayed and fought fire, and they stayed the whole time, the whole duration, we were here for nine or 10 days,” Catron said.

But not everything burned in Doyle. The Constantia Church still stands.

“It’s tongue and groove, beautiful, beautiful wood, all the way up to the vaulted ceiling, of course,” Doyle Historical Society President Ron Cuevas said.

Ron Cuevas is wearing a green and orange tie-dye tank top. He is sporting a large smile and is surrounded by hardwood walls.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Doyle Historical Society President Ron Cuevas inside the Constantia Church in Doyle, Calif., on July 22, 2021. The church is on the Lassen County Historical Building List and survived the Beckwourth Complex Fire.

The church is on the Lassen County Historical Building List, and he said it’s important to Doyle residents. Many have taken part in restoring and preserving it, which has included creating defensible space.

“The weeds were about four feet high, right next to the church, and the sagebrush came all the way up to it. Fortunately, in life, this is the year that I bought myself a tractor, so I brought it down here to play with it, and I cleared all around this church,” Cuevas said.

That might have been what saved the church. Its white picket fence has slight burn marks, and the sagebrush near that fence is scorched, but the wooden structure is completely fine. Cuevas said restoration will go on, and he hopes his daughter will get married here.

The side view of the church, which is a white structure with peeling paint. The white picket fence leading up to the church is scorched in several places. In the background is a patch of burned sagebrush.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
The Constantia Church in Doyle, Calif., on July 22, 2021. The church is on the Lassen County Historical Building List and survived the Beckwourth Complex Fire.

“Everybody who comes in this church has to ring the bell. ... When I finally came in, you know, settled my house and everything, I came down here, I rang it probably 50 times, real loud, so the whole town could hear,” Cuevas said.

View additional photos of the damage caused by the Beckwourth Complex Fire in Doyle by scrolling through the image slideshow at the top of this story.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

KUNR’s Michele Ravera contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: The audio for this story mentions Snook’s Prius was white; however, the vehicle was red. We have updated the text to reflect the change.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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