Good Samaritan builds storage for Caldor Fire survivors

Isaac Streeter / Mountain Democrat
Grizzly Flat resident Matt Nunley stands in front of one of the first sheds he built for his neighbors who lost their homes to the 2021 Caldor Fire.
Isaac Streeter/Mountain Democrat

Matt Nunley walks down to his mill through the maze of charred and fallen trees littering his 3-acre property in Grizzly Flat. Nearby stands his drying shed, where freshly cut two-by-fours sit stacked neatly, ready for the next building project. 

Just across the street is he and his wife Olivia’s home, a 1980s prefabricated house that survived the devastating 2021 Caldor Fire. 

The Nunleys lost two sheds that sat on the peripherals of their property, where the trees that run up next to their home are half burned, showing just how close the fire came. Olivia said patches of shingles on their roof melted but that was the extent of Caldor’s damage to their home. 

Surrounding homes were not so lucky. Two-thirds of Grizzly Flat was lost, most of their neighbors returned to nothing. Those who lived with their homes uninsured because of the risk of fire were compensated with nothing. 

“We come home after the fire, we have our bed, we have our sofa, we have our TV, we have a roof over our heads. We have neighbors that are sleeping in tents, RVs,” Olivia said. “(We knew the snow) and rain were coming and (Matt) said ‘I’ve got to do something’.” 

An $8,000 dollar investment later, the former Intel software engineer found himself retired with a sawmill on his property and a newfound passion — building sheds for his neighbors who lost their homes, free of charge. 

“The one resource we were left with from this fire is wood,” Matt said, gesturing to the piles of logs stacked next to the mill. “We can actually make something out of this devastation.” 

One of the first sheds Matt built was for his neighbor, Mac, a 75-year-old whose family owned property in Grizzly Flat since before he was born. Asking that his last name not be published in the paper, Mac’s home was claimed by Caldor and his home was uninsured. 

Now, Mac lives in a 1986 RV that doesn’t run on the property he owns with his wife. 

“People said ‘well why don’t you move?'” Mac said. “What am I going to do? I don’t have the money to buy a house somewhere else … It’s not like we have a lot of other options — we don’t.” 

The sheds are 10 feet by 12 feet, the maximum size a structure can reach without requiring a building permit in El Dorado County. Excluding the wood, a shed can be built for $680 and solve the problem of storage. 

Because of Matt’s sheds there’s a place to store household goods that would make RVs even more cramped.

“Tools are one of the biggest things. You don’t want to put those in your trailer,” Mac explained. “The generator was a (big deal). That was a huge problem … leaving it out there in the rain or snow, well it’s not good.” 

Mac’s shed is one of five total that Matt has built since 2021 and one of three he’s built for his neighbors free of charge. 

Matt estimates it takes him between 100 and 120 hours to assemble a shed by himself. He thinks if he could get the support of nonprofit organizations he could build more sheds at a far faster pace. 

“(If) I could get five or six people up here, we could put together a shed in a day,” he said. 

Matt added he hopes in the future to acquire approved plans from the county to construct larger sheds or homes for his neighbors and involvement from a nonprofit organization could help him find more of those who lost their homes in the Caldor Fire to support them with similar resources.

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