SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) — Local rancher Doniga Markegard and her family have nearly 1,000 head of cattle that graze on lands they lease in Marin, Sonoma and San Mateo Counties.

When the lightning fires sparked around the Bay Area, she and her family were overwhelmed evacuating their animals that were in harm’s way.

“We were out on horseback, out on foot, gathering them all it was probably 10 solid days just nonstop moving livestock. It was like nothing we’ve ever experienced before, having so many fires all at once, they were little fires everywhere that soon became big fires and mercy got really really scary,” Markegard said.

But while they were rescuing their livestock, the house they were building on the one piece of land they own for themselves was burning down in the forest bordering Big Basin State Park.

In the video above, the matriarch of this 6th generation ranching family is driving KRON4’s Maureen Kelly in a UTV on an unmaintained section of Gazos Creek Road to see the ruins of their property.

Along the way, the destructive power of the CZU Lightning Fire is inescapable.

“It was just a firestorm it came through 44,000 acres in one night, we thought it would take days to reach our house but it reached our house at night,” Markegard said.

In the video, at the end of the road is what’s left of the eclectic compound made up of old rail cars, tree houses and a log cabin that they’d been building over the last 20 years. Its loss triggering a lot of emotions… including anger.

“This was climate and drought-induced, this was human-caused. Yes, it was started by lightning but the severity of it is because humans have not been tending to the wild,” said Markegard. “We’ve not been using the best tools that we have like thinning out the unhealthy trees to keep the forest open, doing prescribed to reduce the fuel load and bring in goat and sheep and cattle to graze all that fuel.”

“We haven’t been doing our job to tend to the earth, it just really makes me mad honestly I’m just really upset.”

Doniga Markegard


To make matters worse, the rancher says they were dropped by their fire insurance. Now left with a complete loss, and no idea what comes next.

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