Fighting Fires Past and Future with My Mom 

Mackenzie Mazen

A Greyshirt reflects on getting the extraordinary opportunity to give back to the county that raised her, with the person who raised her.

Residents of El Dorado County will tell you that the danger of wildfire is ever-present. El Dorado County is on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains and contains a majority of the Eldorado National Forest. The forest is maintained by several different agencies—including federal, state, and county.  

A combination of a prolonged drought and incessant bark beetle infestation that has killed great swaths of trees has led to an escalated fire danger in and around the Forest. Over the past decade, the King Fire in 2014, the Caldor Fire in 2021, and the Mosquito Fire in 2022 burned hundreds of thousands of acres—97,000, 221,000, and 76,000 acres, respectively—and caused massive destruction across El Dorado County. 

When the Caldor Fire burned from August to October of 2021, it took more than 220,000 acres of Northern California with it. Over the span of three months, the fire raged through Alpine, Amador, and El Dorado Counties, and devastated the town of Grizzly Flats—destroying more than 1,000 buildings. 

Two and a half years after the Caldor Fire was contained, evidence of the fire is visible everywhere. Charred trees line properties across the town of Grizzly Flats and many residents live in trailers, the foundations of their former homes gaping and empty.  

It’s a journey full of two-lane roads to get into Grizzly Flats, roughly 60 miles east of Sacramento, and one I’d made many times growing up. In April and May, I had the opportunity to take this journey for the first time as a Greyshirt.  

Giving back to the county that raised you is fulfilling. Giving back to the county that raised you, with the person who raised you, is extraordinary. My mom, Kelly Ogden, lived in El Dorado County for 20 years. She’d worked as an EMT in the Emergency Room of the only hospital accessible for most of the county until she moved in the middle of 2020. She still works for the hospital remotely and travels back there at least once a quarter.  

We might both have moved away from El Dorado, but we both have deep ties to the county. Our friends, and her coworkers, are some of the many people who lost everything in the Caldor Fire. So, when presented with the chance to deploy and assist our community on the mitigation and wildfire recovery operation Golden Grizzly, we both jumped at the opportunity. My mom had signed up to become a Greyshirt after I began working for Team Rubicon—today, in addition to being a Greyshirt, I serve as a senior associate of development operations with Team Rubicon—and although she had done some training and service events with TR, this was her first full-fledged operation. Due to her work at the hospital, she was only able to deploy for one day of the operation. But in a somewhat ironic turn of events, we were placed on a team together that day, one where I was the strike team leader—I was in charge. We spent the first half of the day doing site surveys of local properties to see how Team Rubicon could assist residents. Of course, since my mom had taken an in-person site survey class, she really ended up being the one in charge.  

mother's day volunteers
Mother and daughter volunteer duo, Greyshirts Kelly Ogden and Mackenzie Mazen.

In the morning, we were in a small, isolated community. The type of community that is off county-maintained roads, where there is one way in and out, where everyone knows each other, and where a fire could rage after one small spark. The unofficial mayor or the neighborhood led us around the community, letting us know about several residents who needed help. Residents who did not have the financial or physical capabilities to maintain a safe defensible space on their property. We took notes and pictures and brought them back to our Command and General Staff who would help with the process of getting Greyshirts out to these properties.  

After some more site surveys, we stopped to have lunch on a tree stump in Grizzly Flats. While on that stump, we met a local who was out walking her dog. We asked her if she knew about Team Rubicon, she did, and she was just waiting for someone to come survey her property. Talk about the right place, right time. I called our team back at the Forward Operating Base and asked if we could head over to her house, and they gratefully obliged.   

After our final site survey, we headed to a property where several sawyer teams were hard at work felling trees. Having never seen Team Rubicon sawyers work before, my mom was impressed. She commented on their precision, their communication, their dedication to safety. Working in the Emergency Room, she knew firsthand how dangerous chainsaws can be, and she was delighted with how the sawyers were handling them. 

One of Team Rubicon’s cultural values is “Your Mother’s a Donor.” And my mother is, indeed, a donor. She’s a member of the Support Squad—meaning she donates monthly, investing in Team Rubicon’s mission. Her reasoning for being a member of Support Squad is, “I believe in supporting all people because you never know when it might be you on the end of needing support.” 

It’s true, you never know when you might be the one needing support. As a Team Rubicon staff member, I spend my days hyper-aware of the disasters that affect thousands of individuals across the nation, disasters frequently unnoticed by those that don’t live them first-hand. There, in those fire-crisped mountains, I was reminded of the importance of the work that Team Rubicon does. The importance of the dedication and hard work of Greyshirts. As my mom and I donned our grey shirts, I knew the importance of giving back to the community that raised me. 

Donate in Honor of Someone

This Mother’s Day, we invite you to contribute to our mission as a meaningful tribute to your mother or a mother figure in your life. Honor someone you love with a gift made in their name to Team Rubicon.

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