David & Rebekah Johnson

My Husband, David, had been looking for a place in the mountains for quite awhile when he stumbled upon our place. He fell in love with it when he first saw it and it has been his, then my, heaven on earth. That does not mean living up here was easy or convenient by any means, but the peace and tranquility you feel in your home is worth the extra money or duties that come along with it.

We had remodeled our old cabin when David retired in 2011, living in a tent during the process. It was the start of the big drought, so good timing for building and tenting.

Then came the bug kill and we, like many others lost several trees, even having to pay for a few to come down. We were certainly set for firewood! This summer, it seemed to me things were really dry, even after a few good wet seasons.

Then, we saw the huge cloud of smoke! We weren’t overly concerned as it was more than 15 miles away. I was on the computer constantly watching its progress, noticing that within a day, everyone on the lake was ordered off (and this was a HUGE Labor Day weekend, with temps soaring above 100 degrees) and soon the town was already being evacuated. The smoke had grown thick and by Sunday morning, Cressmans and Auberry Rd were ordered out. We never received any warnings, but stayed in contact with the neighbors and noticed even homes on Peterson Rd. were leaving.

It was hard to breathe, and I encouraged David to just pack, having been invited to stay with friends during this process. We still weren’t worried, and didn’t pack everything we might have, but certainly glad I packed all that I did! We gathered the pets and left early evening.

The drive out was haunting and lonely…it looked abandoned, and we still had not even received a warning!

We watched as the raging fire quickly progressed and shocked as we saw Cressmans go down on Monday! The weather reported stronger winds and a change in direction heading south…OUR direction!. I was born in 1960 and Tuesday, my 60th birthday, my Beddian birthday…worst birthday ever…we KNEW our house was gone!

Our neighbors reported, one by one, their losses showing pictures of the still smoking skeletal remains. We stressed as we searched for someone who would be able to check on our place.

Then the neighbor next to us said a friend checked on Cripe Rd reporting all houses were gone, showing pictures. I asked if there were any of our place. She looked but did not see any, so we still couldn’t verify our loss. We finally found a sheriff friend who said he would try to check, and we drew a map out for him to find the place. He ended up not having time, but gave the map with our permission to a news crew who did proceed to check on it for us.

We were SHOCKED to receive a call from him with pictures showing our house still standing! It was covered in pink retardant and we were never so happy, but conflicted feeling a tremendous amount of survivors guilt! We made the local news, and everyone was so happy for us.

We waited what seems to be a month, being the last phase, to finally be allowed in to our place. We were expecting to have to replace the freezer and refrigerator and deal with a horrible smell. We were busy unloading stuff from our truck into the carport to help with clean-up, when David went to our walking bridge and exclaimed, “It isn’t there”!

We were taken aback since by all reports, it had survived the worst of the fire! We quickly took pictures and left in a stupor.

We now, like most of our neighbors, did not have a home to return to! We have been very fortunate and were offered to rent a house from friends, who used it during their time of evacuation. It has been a real source of comfort, but the unsettled feeling has not left us. The waiting period for Fema to come in, deal with Insurance, and all that came with that was very stressful, but at the same time, took our minds off of our loss.

We are still waiting for the debris cleanup, which had just begun and were going to do our place as it had been such a dry winter, when the storm of the century, the atmospheric river, blew in and stopped the progress!

Right now, we are still waiting, but hoping to get some skiing in since there is finally snow, but our hearts weigh heavy!