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Science & Environment

California Business Owner Shares Why He Stayed Despite Risk From Wildfires


We are tracking wildfires in California that stretch for hundreds of miles in the northern and southern parts of the state. The Woolsey Fire is down near Los Angeles. Many thousands of people have been told to evacuate, and that includes the owners of The Rock Store biker bar in Cornell, Calif., about 12 miles north of Malibu.

The building was originally a stagecoach stop. When the Savko family bought it in 1961, they turned it into a grocery store. And over time, it became a destination for bikers riding the area's twisty canyon roads.

Rich Savko is the owner now, and he helps his mother run the bar. He joins us from the store, where communication is limited but the landline rotary phone is still working. Mr. Savko, thanks for taking the time.

RICH SAVKO: Oh, thank you.

SHAPIRO: First, let me just ask, since you are in the evacuation zone, why did you decide to stay?

SAVKO: Well, you know, it's been in the family for 58 years. Excuse me. You've got to do what you've got to do.

SHAPIRO: I can hear the emotion in your voice. It must be an incredibly difficult time for you.

SAVKO: It's is. It was just devastating - just devastating throughout this whole area. And we didn't have any time to respond. You know, I mean, it came through so fast. And, you know, there's large ranches around here. They just had to turn animals free. And some plots were saved. And just by the grace of God, The Rock Store is still standing.

SHAPIRO: Were you in the store as the fire passed by?

SAVKO: We were just leaving the area. Like, I had to leave the store area and go over one or two more streets until it passed on through.

SHAPIRO: So what does the immediate vicinity look like around where you are right now?

SAVKO: You know, I - if I look at the mountains, I mean, it's completely - 360 degrees, it's just charred. Nothing - nothing left - absolutely nothing. Where I'm presently standing at the store and across the street, but by the grace of God, it's, you know, it's green, and you wouldn't think that anything had ever happened. So...

SHAPIRO: Do you know friends and neighbors in the area who have lost their homes?

SAVKO: Yeah, yeah. I just - I was just talking to a couple of them a little while ago. One of the guys had a big home up on top of the hill - a big ranch. And he lost everything. And he was here late yesterday afternoon. And, you know, we asked him why he came back, and he said he's got to bury his dog.


SAVKO: Then there's the trailer park probably within - I don't know - a quarter-mile from The Rock Store. So they lost - I don't - a hundred - little over a hundred trailers. You know, you see toys, cars left. It just went through so fast, and there's so much devastation. And it burned all the way to the PCH, which is probably, you know, 8, 10 miles.

SHAPIRO: The Pacific Coast Highway, yeah.

SAVKO: Yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: And even though your store has lost power, you're still open. Tell me what's happening there.

SAVKO: Well, it's a controlled area, so they're only letting, you know, maintenance people come in and do repairs. The police have the area pretty well, you know, blocked off.

What we're doing is helping our local residents right here so that we're able to survive this. And we still have gas on our stoves here, so we're cooking up all the, you know, the meats and serving breakfast and bacon, sandwiches or whatever we can do, you know, because the meat's going to spoil here before, you know, real soon, so...

SHAPIRO: Yeah. You may not have seen this, but on The Rock Store's Facebook page, there are hundreds of people from all over the world expressing just kind of gratitude that your store remains standing, people posting things like, God must be a biker...

SAVKO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Thank God this store was saved.

SAVKO: Glad to hear that because, you know, we don't have any - obviously, we don't have service or telephones or anything here. But we want everybody to know that the store is still standing. And when we get power and everything restored, everything will be back in business, I'm sure.

SHAPIRO: Well, Rich Savko, thank you for talking with us, and I'm sorry for what you've been through. We appreciate your time.

SAVKO: OK, thank you.

SHAPIRO: That was Rich Savko, owner of The Rock Store in Cornell, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.