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Hopes and Fears in Ghost Town Julian

Julian, population 2000, is no stranger to fire. Charles Scott, who owns the town bakery, recites a list of blazes that have destroyed parts of the town.

Scott : The ranchita fire, the pines fire, the cedar fire, the angel fire, and now this fire, have all been very close to this town. The angel fire a month ago was so close that it was right atop of this hill; you could see the flames.

In the last days of the Cedar Fire four years ago, firefighters made a heroic effort to save this tiny mountain town on the edge of the desert. Now, almost exactly four years later, the fires are back, and authorities have asked residents to get out of the way. But Scott was among a handful of people who defied orders to evacuate the town.

Scott : I’m not going to stand out front with a water hose and fight a fire, no. but I don’t want to take up space at a shelter, when I already have shelter. I have shelter, it’s safe, so why would I go and take up bed space where somebody might need it?

Most folks here didn’t share Scott’s opinion. The town’s main street was empty, save for the few residents who refused to leave, and fire engines racing through from one fire line to the next. At one point, Scott was forced to tell tourists from Palm Springs that the entire town was closed.

Scott : Folks, have a safe trip, ok? Take care. Come back again when….when you’re open? When we’re open and having a good time!

Tourists Joe Anthony and his grandson Griffin Bledsoe looked a little dumbfounded by what appeared to be a ghost town.

Anthony : What did you think about your first visit to Julian.

Bledsoe : It’s quiet. I have nothing to say, really.

Anthony : Yeah, he’s looking for the nightlife.

Though Julian’s main street was quiet, nearby fires almost formed a ring around the town.

Julian Fire Department Battalion Chief Doug Andrews wasn’t thrilled with his neighbors who decided to stay here, because, he said, it could turn into a liability for his crew. He says firefighters trying to rescue people from the Harris fire were overtaken by flames.

Last I heard, at least two of them were critical. It’s getting’ to a point that when people refuse to leave, they’re on their own.

Andrews wasn’t complaining, though, about Christy Connell, owner of the Julian Café. She decided to stay put so that she could grill hamburgers for the fire crews.

Connell tears up at the thought of another autumn ruined by fires. This is apple harvesting season here, when tourism is at its peak.

Connell : This is what we count on to make it through the rest of the year. We are still in debt, every one of us, from 2003, that fire. We really need some support to keep this town alive. Because once again, we’re getting wiped out and not making any money for the next two weeks.

With the winds dying down, and more crews fighting the fires around Julian, it’s looking less likely that Julian will be ‘wiped out’ as Connell fears. She hopes tourists will be back to Julian before the autumn colors drain from the leaves and before the apple harvest is finished.

For NPR News, I’m Rob Schmitz, in Julian. 

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