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Madera County

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

With fires burning across California devastating entire communities, homeowners are beginning to file claims with their insurance companies. But in the mountains of eastern Madera County, many homeowners say they’re losing their insurance during a time when they could need it most.

Frank Ealand lives in an area near Coarsegold in the foothills of eastern Madera County that insurance companies call a fire prone zone. He says in the past three years his homes have gone without insurance after being dropped by companies three times.

Isolino Ferreira/Flickr / License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

Over the past month we’ve brought you stories about how online short-term rental sites are changing the communities near Yosemite National Park. The booming vacation rental market is creating a shortage of places for locals to rent for the long-term and in some cases contributing to the area's homeless problem. And now the growing lack of long-term rentals is causing a hiring issue in Yosemite.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

When people think of homelessness, they often think of big cities like Fresno or Bakersfield. But in the mountains of Madera County it's a lingering problem. And as the short-term rental market grows, some fear the housing shortage in the communities just outside Yosemite will only get worse. 

Serenity Village is a seven-unit affordable apartment complex in Oakhurst targeted at helping homeless people get back on their feet.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Most people in the mountain area around Oakhurst know Katie Miller as the Mountain Madam. That’s her brand. The London Properties' realtor and I are driving to an area north of Oakhurst where she recently sold a home that’s now listed on the online rental site Airbnb.

“So that’s the Airbnb right here,” says Miller. “There’s a spiral staircase inside, all wood floors. They figured out how to maximize the space and put beds everywhere.”

Kerry Klein / KVPR

Drive through the pomegranate and pistachio orchards between Highways 41 and 99 and you may stumble upon Valley Teen Ranch, a cluster of residential homes where juvenile offenders come to be rehabilitated.

Today, a few men are in their living room playing a basketball video game and making small talk with Connie Clendenan, the ranch’s CEO. “I'm for the Warriors, don't we have them?” asks Clendenan. “I'm from Oakland, so yeah,” one of the men laughs.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

In late April, we launched a series called “Contaminated” where our team explores communities in the region affected by water unsafe to drink. In our first story, we visited a Fresno County community that can’t afford to maintain the arsenic treatment plant the federal government funded 10 years ago. 

We continue today with a look at a Madera County mountain community where residents have been exposed to a different hazardous material in water for decades—but they could have clean water by the end of the year.

Kerry Klein / KVPR

Since the beginning of April, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced more than 350 arrests in raids from New York to Virginia to Texas. Presumably, they could happen anywhere at anytime.

But a new quid pro quo with the government has Madera County hoping it can both do away with raids and keep its residents safe.

In most of California, county jails are run by county sheriffs. Not so in Madera, where District Attorney David Linn explains the jail belongs to its own Department of Corrections.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

All of the recent rain and snow in California is good news for farms and cities. The runoff flowing from the Sierra Nevada is so strong this year that’s it's moving huge boulders and tons of earth down rivers. That means gold is on the move as well and as Valley Public Radio’s Ezra David Romero reports that has gold prospectors on alert.

 

Larry Riggs and his friends are hunting on a piece of private property near Oakhurst. There are no guns or fishing poles present. Just shovels, plastic bowls and buckets.

They’re panning for gold.

Ezra David Romero

An explosion of building is ramping up just north of Fresno in Madera County. This area of rolling hills on the way to Yosemite could become a city the size of Clovis. All this development could be good for the county's finances, but as FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports people who already live there say it could change their way of life.

Kimberly Gomes is a realtor who grew up in the Madera Ranchos. It’s an unincorporated community of less 10,000 people just minutes from Fresno.

Jeffrey Hess/KVPR

This weekend’s string of heavy rain has put a lot of pressure on families and local officials to respond to the threat of flooding, especially in mountains. Residents in some communities have even been forced to evacuate to escape the rising tide.

Many a normally small, peaceful mountain creek has now been transformed is now a broad fast moving river.

The days of heavy rains have caused the Madera County Sheriff to order mandatory evacuations in some of the low-lying areas of the town of North Fork south of Bass Lake.

http://www.noaustinquarry.org/map/

Drive north from Fresno along Highway 41 and you’ll see thousands of acres of rolling farmland. One day, those ranches, vineyards and orchards will become thousands of new homes.

It’s all part of an ambitious plan by developers and Madera County leaders to grow a major new city in the area. But building a city the size of Modesto takes a lot of materials, including things like gravel and concrete and asphalt.

401kcalculator.org/ flickr

Throughout the Central Valley, communities are grappling with how to keep their towns safe with enough cops and firefighters on the beat. Many have found that traditional revenue sources simply aren’t enough, and are turning to special taxes. But how they are doing so diverges down several different paths. Community reaction to tax increases seems to plays a big role in how local political leaders decide to act.

Kerry Klein/KVPR

In the Sierra Nevada, it’s estimated that tens of millions of trees have died as a result of drought, many of which succumbed to infestations from bark beetles. As a result, we’ve been told our risk of wildfire is far higher than normal, but FM89’s Kerry Klein says the science doesn’t necessarily agree.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Shipping containers have been used for everything from community gardens to pools and even homes. In rural Madera County one farmer is using these containers to help him save water on his sheep farm. He says a shipping container could actually be a solution to drought.

At Golden Valley Farm, about 10 miles northwest of Madera, Mario Daccarett’s employees are milking 500 sheep in rounds of 12. 

US Forest Service

In the last 24 hours the Willow Fire has grown by around 1,000 acres, fueled by dense brush, hot conditions and wind. As of Friday morning the fire has consumed around 4,300 acres and is 30 percent contained.  The blaze began Saturday near Bass Lake and is now 30 percent contained. 

Officials say the southern flank of the fire is now burning in the footprint of the 2001 North Fork fire, an area filled with dense brush, tree snags and dead woody material. On the north crews are making progress battling the fire around a large granite outcropping known as the 7 Rock. 

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