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San Joaquin Area Fire Means Anxious Moments
grass fire 6-16-18
A grass fire charred about a half-acre near Highway 99 in Turlock on Tuesday. - photo by Contributed

They didn’t have to evacuate or move any cattle … but they were ready just in case.

Escalon resident and elementary school teacher Michelle LaRossa, her daughter Logan and her mom Josephine ‘Jo’ Chaffee were on high alert and had to spring into action when the Waverly Fire broke out on Friday afternoon, June 29. LaRossa’s mom lives on property on Waverly Road, the JMR Ranch, and the trio – with help from neighboring property owners – had the cattle ready to go if necessary.

The fire, burning all around the area, did not actually come on to the property but the threat was real, especially with the way the winds in that area swirl and change direction quickly, LaRossa said.

“We had to round up the cattle, we had to leave my house quickly, I was in my sundress and my boots,” LaRossa said of responding from her Escalon home to help her mom. “It was really scary for a short time but my mom, Logan and I were ready to evacuate.”

LaRossa’s other two children were not in the area at the time, so the three were on their own at the start of the incident.

“We did get the cattle in the corral and then people were coming in, willing to hook up their trailers and get them out,” LaRossa explained.

Thankfully, she said, due to the efforts of firefighters on the front lines and the winds keeping the flames away from the ranch, they escaped unharmed, with no loss of livestock or property. They continue to deal with the smoky situation, however, with the air periodically hazy and the smell of smoke prevalent in the area. That, as much from the Waverly Fire itself in addition to several others burning around the region.

“You prepare and pray,” LaRossa added, also thanking those neighbors willing to help out at a moment’s notice.

She said her mom has lived at the ranch – JMR standing for Jo, Michelle and Russ (Michelle’s father) – for more than 20 years.

“That’s her whole life,” LaRossa said, grateful that the home was spared. “The winds were helping and of course, all the firefighters.”

She said the effort pointed out the community spirit in the area, as everyone tried to make sure everyone else was okay and that as much was done as possible to secure homes and protect outbuildings. Most in the area have firebreaks, LaRossa added, and the winds late Friday pushed the fire more toward the Milton area and away from her mother’s home.

“You’re never really quite ready for that,” LaRossa admitted of the push to get ready for evacuation. “We stayed up all night … it was a little terrifying.”

Luckily, she said, the knock on the door they were expecting telling them to get out never came – but they will continue to be watchful as the long fire season looms ahead.