Eleanore Muscott’s Sunday was filled with chores. In the morning she fed the chickens and rabbits and hung three loads of towels on the line to dry.
By 1:30 p.m., when she was beginning to wash dishes in the sink of the Wailaki Street home she shared with her daughter and two grandchildren, she thought she saw smoke drift past the window.
“But then after a while I could hear the distinct crackle of fire,” she said.
By the time she made it out the back door, a shed at the edge of her property was ablaze. Like lightning, the trees and lilac bushes nearby burst into flames.
In the scorching Nevada heat — with a red-flag warning in effect for high fire danger — neighbors had decided to do some metal grinding on the property next door, according to Battalion Chief Bob Charles. All it took was a tiny spark to land in the sunbaked cheat grass in Muscott’s yard.
There was no hope to save the 90-year-old home, but Muscott didn’t know that. All she knew was that the place was going to burn and she’d be darned if she’d stand by and watch.
Racing to the north side of the house, the 62-year-old grabbed her garden hose and was successful in putting out a fire burning near a travel trailer next to the home. But when she looked above her, the eaves of the home were aflame.
“I was trying to squirt the fire out under my eaves when evidentially the plants on the other side caught fire, and then the big cottonwood tree started to burn. It was creating a lot of smoke, and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t stand here anymore,'” she said.
Yet Muscott stayed. She said she drenched the collar of her shirt with water and pulled it over her mouth and nose. Alone, she continued her valiant fight against the torrent.
“After a while the fire was becoming so intense, it was hard to stand in one spot. I tried to douse by roof with my little hose. I thought I might have a chance,” she explained Friday.
By the time she got back to the south side of the house, the east end of the home was engulfed in flames.
Muscott said she broke out the screen on a locked door at the east end of the house and made her way into her bedroom to grab her bag.
Through the thick, choking smoke, Muscott made her way outside with her purse in flames as it hung over her arm.
There was nothing that could be done to save the home, said Charles. The best the firefighters could do was stop it from spreading to nearby properties. And that they did.
But in the end, Muscott’s home was lost.
“Everything burned,” she said.
On Friday, with her sons Justin and Dana Muscott and two friends by her side, Muscott made her way into the ruins and salvaged treasures from among the waste.
Native American baskets woven by her sister’s in-laws were found untouched.
“All our Indian baskets were saved, thank God,” said Muscott.
While the dollar bills she kept in a tin for chicken feed didn’t surive, she was able to recover framed photographs of her sister Lorraine Dick, who died a year ago in September from complications connected to a kidney transplant, and of Lorraine’s husband, Steve Dexter, who succumbed to lung cancer five years before his bride.
The Wailaki home had been in Steve’s family since the inception of the Carson Colony in the 1920s, said Muscott. The building housed the history of his family. When both Steve and Lorraine died, Muscott inherited the property and along with that, she said, an intense sense of responsibility to her lost loved ones.
“Every day,” she said, “I thanked Steve for my home.”
Now, she shares a motel room with daughter Elizabeth, who’s studying for a degree in political science, and her grandchildren Hayden, 10, and Mollie, 12.
The Red Cross paid for four nights at the motel; the Washoe Tribe will pay for 30 more.
That should be enough time to get it together, she hopes.
Their clothes are gone, their shoes are gone, their furniture is gone. Even Hayden’s black Converse sneakers were turned to dust, he said.
But even as they sat in a makeshift “living room” in the yard of the charred home Friday, they still laughed. The fire didn’t take their spirit.
Muscott said she had put in a request with the Washoe Tribe to move into a vacant home next door to her property. She hopes to hear sometime next week if the request was approved.
And she’s grateful for the vacation she never took from her job with Native TANF Program, so she can use the time to get her bearings.
The tribe has stepped up, said Muscott. The kids in the Carson Colony Youth Recreation Program held a spaghetti feed and car wash, with the proceeds going to the clan. Even Chairwoman Wanda Batchelor pitched in, giving Muscott a new purse, toiletries and some clothes.
Accepting help is not something they are used to, said Elizabeth, but it’s a new world they live in now.
“It’s a very strange experience trying to keep your privacy intact, especially when everything is laid out and burnt and scattered to and fro,” said Elizabeth. “We feel exposed and vulnerable. You almost have to compromise that in order to receive support, but we would definitely appreciate support.”