When Andy Ruble first saw his family’s ranch after the SCU Lightning Complex Fire tore through, he said it was like being on Mars. The beloved land he has known since childhood is now almost unrecognizable.
“I don’t even know what I’m looking at hardly,” Ruble said. “Everything’s gone.”
Standing at the highest point on the property, the landscape was blackened and burned in every direction he looked. Save for a few pockets that were spared, nearly the entire 500-acre property burned. The rugged and remote piece of land, east of Mount Hamilton, has been in the family since Ruble’s great-grandfather bought it in the mid-1940s.
Ruble, who runs the ceramics program at Foothill College, said that in many ways his life revolves around the ranch. They don’t raise livestock or otherwise use the land to turn a profit, but he and his father, Gary, put in long hours working to maintain the land and the buildings on it.
During the summer, Ruble spends more than half his time on the property. Since the pandemic forced classes online, he has been teaching classes from a house overlooking the pond, where he could get a signal.
“It’s just a deeply heartfelt place,” Ruble said. “It’s hard to go to this place that’s been so familiar, and then not to recognize it.”
The SCU Lightning Complex Fire, which ignited in mid-August, has burned nearly 400,000 acres and destroyed 136 structures, according to Cal Fire.
Preparing to rebuild
On Ruble’s family property, the original house his great-grandfather built has been reduced to a pile of rubble and ash, with the chimney sticking up out of the ruins. The house by the pond, which Ruble had been rebuilding over the past six years, was similarly flattened.
The one exception to the destruction was a garage on the property. The structure, with metal siding and a metal roof, is “miraculously” still standing, Ruble said, despite the fire getting within 4 feet. The inside was blanketed in ash, but family tools dating back to his great-grandfather’s time were safe.
“That’s all my dad really wanted,” Ruble said. “After shedding some tears, he just wanted something that his grandpa built standing.”
The fire has been particularly hard on Ruble’s father, who is in his 70s and has known the property since he was a baby. Ruble, too, has spent time on the property for as long as he can remember. When he thinks back to his childhood, Ruble remembers spending Easters at the ranch, going on egg hunts with his cousins surrounded by blooming wildflowers.
He also would ride on the tractor with his dad as a kid and help out with projects around the property. In recent years, Ruble and his father have put in countless hours working on the land together, which Ruble calls a “labor of love.”
The insurance on the property won’t cover the cost of rebuilding, Ruble said. He is in the process of working with the insurance company to find out how much will be covered. A friend set up a GoFundMe, which has raised more than $20,000.
Ruble and his father have already started clearing roads and rebuilding gates on the property. Although they are still deciding how to move forward, Ruble said they are committed to rebuilding. Foothill is giving him three months off work to start picking up the pieces.
“It’s so deep in our soul that it’s hard to believe that it’s gone,” Ruble said. “Of course, the hills will always be here, but everything we ever worked for is just vaporized.”