Survivalists Stake Claims on Land Near the Fire Frontlines

Miles behind the police barricades along Highway 94, martial law rules.

At Barrett Junction, an intersection marked only by an old-fashioned roadside café, some 50 residents who refused to flee the Harris Fire gather at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. for a free meal and some survivor solidarity amid the smoking hillsides.

Last week, Leon Herzog was serving the Lamborghini Club of Southern California his famous fish fry (on the menu for the past 64 years). This week, it's among the last rag tag vestiges of a string of communities whose homes have been incinerated by the blaze.

"We've never been closed and we don't plan to be," he said.

Some of these folks have lost it all – the trailer park up the road was decimated by the inferno; others have temporarily lost loved ones, still trapped behind the California Highway Patrol's barricades.

"We made it and you know what? Things are burnt down, but we're survivors man," said Kira Coats, a mother of two who off-roaded it back to the homestead to save her pets. "The riff-raff is out 'cause they're not rebuilding. We're country. This is right here, this is all about surviving. It's like camping hardcore."

Much like the Wild West mentality found in post Katrina New Orleans, the remaining residents of Barrett Junction and its environs have adopted a survivalist attitude becoming of the scenery.

"We're handling our own," said Doug Shipton, the father of Coats' two children. "We're not depending on any authority."

The community banded together early this week, deciding to pool resources until civilization could return to them. Herzog offered his dining room, promising a home-cooked meal in the morning and the evening for those subsisting without homes or electricity.

"People are not showing a lot of emotion, but tremendous problems," Herzog said. "I was lucky, I mean, partially lucky and prepared maybe, but a combination thereof."

Herzog and his wife, Christine, didn't lose their two homes or businesses. At least one man and a couple from up the hill were crashing on other people's couches near the café until they could rebuild.

"Right now, while we're trapped in here and we can't move, we're just sharing what we've got, whatever it is," Herzog said.

Romero Crawford, a professional security guard from the area, provides an escort service of sorts through the police lines as well as protection from the threat of theft. "Ran a couple looters off," he said

"We're neighbors, we're friends, we're family," Shipton adds.

But as the days stretch on to the end of a very long week, it's clear that something has to change.

One resident asks Herzog to move up the dinner to before dusk because another resident was harassed by police on his way home after dark.

Another, visibly intoxicated, makes his way out of the café with another beer.

As Coats talks of saving her three dogs, three cats, horse, donkey and snake, Animal Control drives down from the direction of her house and she screams, fearful that her pet might be among the animals heading beyond the barricades.

"It's very angry out here right now," Shipton said.