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Giant Earthship vs wildfire: Did good prepping save this ecovillage?

Dan Schultz spent 15 years building his off-grid self-sufficient utopia with whimsical homes and trees and gardens that produced enough fruit, nuts and produce to feed the half dozen residents for much of the year. The one thing they worried about was fire and last August their fears were realized.

Caught in the path of the Smith River Complex fire that burned for 86 days and consumed nearly 100,000 acres, Dan’s ecovillage suffered some major losses: the 3 story lodge that housed 4 or 5 people burnt to the ground, as did their community kitchen and A-frame cabin. Other buildings survived with just broken windows, like the mountain-long Earthship greenhouse; or with minor charring, like the Hobbit Hole shelter.

One of the toughest losses for Dan was all the perennial food sources, or what made them truly a permaculture – “permanent agriculture” – homestead. “The orchard trees, you work for years to nurture them,” explains Dan. “They’re like your children, you know. We had 100 fruit and nut trees, we produced a couple thousand pounds of food from our orchard trees”.

Shortly after the fire was extinguished Dan and volunteers got started rebuilding. They first had to clear trailer after trailer of rubble, spending $3000 on landfill fees. Their entire water system melted, all the PVC piping and polyethylene tanks, so for a couple months they bathed in the river and “bucketed up” water for washing. They just installed a new system in time for winter.

Volunteers and donations arrived from across the country. The community kitchen was rebuilt from old barn wood and lumber milled from fire-damaged trees on the property. A donated geodesic dome structure waits where the A-Frame once stood. Dan says they will never rebuild the lodge.

Today, the earthship, hobbit home, greenhouse home and roundhouse are all patched up and occupied. With the trees and produce from the earthship, and replanted garden, they can still grow enough vegetables to avoid the hour drive to the supermarket, and they await the spring to see just what of their orchard still lives. As they wait, Dan is constructing a tile mosaic from the rubble tile; it’s a phoenix rising from the ashes.

[Fire footage credit: Gasquet Mike]