Cheri Deaton

Cheri Deaton  | Peterson Road


Oral Interview with CSRF volunteer

I live four miles out on Peterson Road, as the crow flies, right below Cressman’s on the same mountain. We have lived there for 30 years. We had a ranch built up with a two-story house, a two-story barn, three outbuildings and 37 rolling things, including a backhoe, man-lift truck, tractor, motorcycles for all the kids, and you know utility trucks, hunting vehicles, all those kind of things. 


We heard about the fire starting in Big Creek on Friday night. Saturday morning is when I noticed it. In fact, I was due to go to Cressman’s, to their trade days, and set up my booth to sell my jewelry, like I did every last Saturday of the month.  But because it was a holiday weekend, we were going to go ahead and do it the following Saturday. So I went up there and there was nobody there. The smoke was unbearable at that point. I went in the store and I asked him what was going on. That’s when I found out about the fire. They said that there was a fire in Big Creek and that because of that they had canceled the trade day. So I went up the road and put down the sign that said Cressman’s Trade Days. I moved it off the road and facedown in the grass. Then I went downhill and did the same thing with the lower one because I didn’t want anybody seeing the sign and wanting to stop by and being upset–it would be a negative impact on Cressman’s and for the people selling. So I did that. I’m sure that the signs are destroyed at this point. Then I went back home. There were cinders dropping and that sort of thing, but we weren’t really worried because there have been fires in Big Creek before and we’re really quite far away.


Sunday came, and we decided we better evacuated the horses. Now these horses that had been ours are now living next door, because my husband and I don’t ride anymore and she was a new neighbor that was looking for horses.  But we had the horse trailer, and the truck. On Sunday morning, I was loading up the horses in front of her fence into the back of my horse trailers, and I was driving down Tollhouse Road to Burrough Valley, where our children are moving down from Washington.  They hadn’t even moved all the way in, but they had a corral there, so I moved the horses down there. I got to Tollhouse and the brakes went out with the horses and the trailer! I drove the rest of the way, using the parking brake and the four-wheel drive.  There’s a little bit of a downhill on the way to their driveway. I had to pass by it, turn around and come back the other way. And I got the horses safely down.


Okay, so I go back home. And the cinders are getting thicker and falling a little bit more and whatever.  Oh, while I was loading up the horses, my pastor drives up beside me, and he’s got horses from back in on Peterson, because he’s part of animal rescue. So we talked a little bit and then he led me out of Peterson, because I have a big, long rig with the three horses in it, the big 350 truck and everything. People just get out of my way with me coming on.


Anyway, so we’re there and my daughter and son in law had to bring me back, and they brought me back in their Kia, so a small car, right. Okay, I have my car full of jewelry that I wanted to get out of there. But we weren’t really ready to go, because we didn’t think it was a danger. Unbeknownst to us, a deputy had come and knocked on the neighbor’s door, the ones that had the horses, while I was gone, and told him to get out. I asked her if there were any people back in the road behind her and she said yes, about five, I think, but I know the man next door is home.  He has a recliner right in front of the door, he could knock on the door he’ll hear you. Plus the neighbor on the other side was waiting for my advice. I was supposed to call them when we were going to leave.


Okay, so we’re sitting there, it’s starting to get dark, we visited during the afternoon but we didn’t want to put any paper boxes in the back of the truck because we thought maybe some live cinders might get them. We still weren’t really worried, because we thought it was just smoke and cinders.  We didn’t think a fire that started in Big Creek would make it as far down as Peterson Road. But then it started to get dark. Well anyway, a deputy had come next door, didn’t notify us, didn’t notify the neighbor. When we saw the flames, through the smoke on the other side of Tollhouse Road from us we realized we had to get out. 


We spent about 30 minutes. I rescued five boxes of my mom’s china, my grandmother’s silverware, my grandma’s treadle machine, a music cabinet that she had gotten that same grandma–the first woman to graduate from Oberlin Conservatory of Music. It was a solid oak cabinet she received as a gift when that happened, I snatched that out. I didn’t worry about any clothes, any jewelry, nothing.  I just wanted those family heirlooms. I left Afghans that my grandma had made. I left embroidery work that had been done by them, crocheted bedspreads, all kinds of things that were in the family for many generations. But I didn’t take any clothes.  I had a scuzzy pair of tennis shoes on and the clothes on my back and that’s it.  I got the china, the silverware, and the two pieces of furniture, there was barely room to put the two dogs at the tailgate. We got them in.  We couldn’t catch all the cats. We got one cat into a carrier and took him down to Burrough Valley. He got away from there and he is still down there lost, we don’t know where he is. We had five cats. And we had chickens.


Now, the chickens had an old travel trailer as a coop with a sizeable fence around. They were free to roam inside the fence, and they were protected pretty well from predators. But we had to just leave their door open and their gate open, and hope that they made it, and we left. So we left the cats, and the chickens, and we left. We went to the Fresno house.  The day after that our kids from Burrough Valley called and said they had to evacuate. Now they had the horses. Okay, so they came to live with us at the Fresno house, which had been the house I had grown up in.  We had bought it the year before from the family friend. And so they came to live with us. And the neighbor, who now owns the horses, called 911. Guess who shows up? My pastor in Burrough Valley. And he called me and said, “I’ve got your horses, and they’re on the way to the Clovis Rodeo Grounds”.

hat’s one thing that is not a coincidence, it’s just something that happened. It’s too much. 


They stayed with us for two weeks and then they were able to move back. We still didn’t know about whether our house had survived or not. One of my daughter is the area director of  California Fish and Wildlife.  She sent one of the wardens out, he went out and checked,  took a movie of our place. And the interesting thing about that is there was nothing left but ashes, the chimney, and twisted metals. Nothing survived. We also had a fire truck parked in the yard.


And then all of a sudden, as he’s taking the movie when you’re looking at it. He does a double take. Under the fire truck were chickens that were alive. Later, about a week later, my pastor and a bunch of buddies went out there with big fish nets and rescued the chickens.  Two of them went next door to live with the neighbor that has horses, her house did not burn. And so two of my chickens are over there, and the rest of them are living with the vet, Sally Phillips, from Auberry at her house along the road to Fresno, on 168. So that’s what happened to us.


  In October we bought a 34-foot fifth wheel and we are staying at our place, our burnt place up in the mountains. A few days a week we go down to the Fresno house for doctor’s appointments and so we can water the yard, but we will be rebuilding.