Remaining optimistic: River Fire victims begin to look at rebuilding

River Fire containment continues to progress

Charred remnants of vehicles sit in the driveway of Porfirio “Pete” Reyna’s Rumford Court home in Chicago Park, where everything, including his home, was a total loss due to the River Fire. Reyna, like others, has already begun looking at rebuilding.
Photo: Elias Funez

When Chicago Park resident Porfirio “Pete” Reyna first heard about the River Fire, he was working a job site in Walnut Creek.

“I seen the plume from the Bay Area, it looked like a volcanic eruption,” Reyna said.

“You know when you get one of those feelings? I seen a giant plume of smoke and knew it was my house,” Reyna added. “I got there just in time to watch my property burn.”

Reyna lost everything he owned Wednesday night in the River Fire.

Aside from losing his recently purchased home, he lost a $75,000 Dodge Hellcat, a $35,000 El Camino, a Denali truck, a car hauler, a race boat, an AR-15, antiques and more.

But he isn’t as down about the situation as one might think.

Reyna has turned his situation into a positive one, finding a silver lining as a result of the River Fire.

“I didn’t lose things,” Reyna said. “I got to detach from a bunch of material things in my life. I’m a real God believing man, and everything happens for a reason. I get to start over again, but now I’m in a better place, making better money.”

Charred metal and ash are all that remain of “Pete” Reyna’s Chicago Park home, which burned Wednesday night due to the River Fire.
Photo: Elias Funez

Reyna makes his living as a contractor, and has already purchased a new truck and tools for a job he has just started working on in Reno.

“I got my dog, I’m safe, I got my family. Yeah, I lost a dwelling, but I didn’t lose a part of me. My stuff doesn’t make me. I make me,” Reyna said.

Having been recently divorced, with many possessions left over from his previous relationship, also made it easier for Reyna to let go when the River Fire burned his property.

“I just got divorced, I just bought this house, now it’s round two,” Reyna said. “All my stuff burned, but I already filed all my claims. I’ve moved on, but my life has been like that growing up. Nothing is going to be same 20 years from now.”

Reyna praised his Farmer’s Insurance agent, and will have a new manufactured home put in place of his old one.

“I’ll build back better, with a steel structure for my vehicles,” Reyna said, estimating to have that done within a year and a half.

“There’s always some silver lining somewhere,” Reyna said.

A classic Chevrolet El Camino was among some of the possessions lost by Chicago Park resident “Pete” Reyna in the River Fire.
Photo: Elias Funez


By Monday morning containment of the River Fire stood at 68%. The blaze had reached 2,619 acres.

A total of 66 residential structures were destroyed, as well as two commercial structures and 20 other buildings.

Full containment of the fire is expected on Friday.

Jim Hudson, division chief of the Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit, gave an overview of the initial firefight to people gathered at the Bear River High School evacuation center Saturday morning.

“The fire was spotting in front of itself up to two miles at some points,” Hudson said. “As those spot fires become established, they become part of the main fire front and the main body of the fire.”

“Once we saw the smoke column… the dispatch was doubled, highly increased as well as the responders from our local cooperators in the Higgins Fire District, Placer County as well, Nevada County Consolidated and Peardale (Chicago Park). It was all hands on deck when we saw this fire.

Hudson explained how a Venturi air effect was formed by the fire along the Placer County side, leading to the blaze establishing itself on Silver Leaf Drive in Nevada County.

“There was a good fuel load and very little fire history in that area,” Hudson added. “There was very rapid growth of the fire, a rapid progression.”

Simultaneously, on the Placer County side, the fire started to go up Milk Ranch Road before being stopped just west of Tokayana Way.

The 2,619-acre River Fire is one of the largest wildfires of note in the region in recent years, and straddles the Nevada and Placer county border along the Bear River. Full containment of the fire is expected this week.
Photo: Elias Funez

“When I assumed command, I expected this fire to be 10 to 15,000 acres,” Hudson said.

Cal Fire Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit Chief Brian Estes elaborated on the augmented initial attack.

“The kidney punch to this fire really was in those first couple hours,” Estes said.

“About an hour and a half into this fire, there was an order placed and supported by our regional staff in Redding’s Geographical Area Coordination center that prioritized this fire for about one hour as the number one priority in the state of California. What that brought us in that one hour was 50 fire engines, 20 bulldozers, 20 hand crews, and 15 air tankers,” Estes said.

“That initial attack punch really turned the corner on this fire.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Members of the community, including those who have lost their homes to the River Fire, gathered in the Bear River High School gymnasium Saturday morning for a briefing on the fire from Nevada County officials.


Sheriff Shannan Moon on Saturday announced that evacuation orders have been lifted for all but the remaining 400 homes inside the perimeter of the 2,600-acre River Fire.

Highway 174 is now fully open in both directions.

“We see fires every single day in Nevada County,” Moon said. “And when we start sending deputies to those fires before we’re requested, it’s to make sure that we’re hand-in-hand with our fire partners on what’s next.”

“When this one happened, it was very obvious early on, the way the conditions were, that we had that huge potential of (the fire) coming up in that northwest canyon at Alta Sierra, which is clearly the more populated area.”

Moon noted the effectiveness of the county’s new evacuation system being operated through Zone Haven.

“The reality right now on getting the other 400 back into your homes is making sure utilities are safe. There are a lot of downed trees, and we need to make sure things are safe for folks on the properties.”

Burned and busted utility poles are currently being replaced and repaired in the area of the 2,619-acre River Fire.
Photo: Elias Funez

Brandon Sanders, a public affairs representative for PG&E, was on hand to answer people’s concerns about repairs to the electrical grid.

“In terms of infrastructure impacts, we do have damage most on the distribution system, which feeds our homes. There are four transmission poles being replaced (Saturday),” Sanders said.

“To my knowledge there would not be any sort of cost basis on the customer side to bring back to service, pre-fire.”

Sanders added that Chicago Park and Colfax High schools have been brought back online in case they want to be used as a community resource center. Billing has also been suspended for impacted customers.

Those looking to help victims of the River Fire can donate at

Elias Funez is the Multimedia Reporter for The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. To contact him email, or call 530-477-4230


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