Donna Baker Martin, Ed.D.

Donna Baker Martin, Ed.D. | Ockenden Ranch, Shaver Lake

6-08-22

 

June 8, 2022:

It has been a year and a half since the Creek Fire started and I did not want to write my story. I avoided it because it meant it was real. I encouraged others to write their stories since I was part of the Storytelling Group but just hadn’t gotten around to writing mine. It was not until I read Tori Goss’s story that I decided to write. I had no idea what it was really like. I was reminded by a survivor recently that I was the one who encouraged him to write. He said it was hard to put pen to paper and kept waking up in the middle of the night. He finally wrote his story describing his loss. Now it’s my turn. 

Friday September 4, 2020 

It was Friday of Labor Day weekend, and I was looking forward to a small gathering at the Issacs’s cabin on Cold Springs in Ockenden. My husband, Louie, and I were expecting our daughter Kirsten and her son for the weekend, but they were not expected until later, so we were happy to visit with friends that night. The cabin was just above Highway 168 and as dusk came, we heard several sirens in the distance and thought, “Oh no, hope there was not an accident at the lake.” This was a familiar sound in the summer. A forest fire was the last thing that occurred to us. At end of the evening, we headed home to wait for Kirsten and Lukijah who arrived a little later that evening.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

At 5:00 am, we got a call from friend and neighbor Bobby Coburn who had gone to town because there was falling ash and he wanted to see what was going on. He learned Big Creek was being evacuated. About that time, Kirsten woke up telling us it smells like smoke, and she would know because she evacuated during a fire near Weaverville a couple of years ago. She knew the smell. We did not panic because we knew there had been several small fires that were quickly put out over the years, and we thought it would be just fine.  

At 5:30 AM, Deanna Coburn (Bobby’s wife) banged on the door, “We need to go, there is fire and we need to leave.” She was quite emphatic then she went next door to alert the Ballenger’s. Again, we did not panic though we decided to leave the house as soon as possible. We packed a weekend bag, thinking we would come home in a couple of days. Then, I gathered the food I just bought for the weekend, and we headed to the Ballenger’s house in Fresno to wait. It was 7:30 AM.

For the next several days we talked about “what ifs” and what would we do. Do we have a house? What if it was all gone? What then? We filled our days trying to learn more. Where is the fire now? Are our friends safe? What was the latest update?  

Bobby and Deana’s son works for Edison, and we got updates from time to time. On Monday we learned our neighborhood was spared. A quick video showed our house still standing and I was stunned that our deck umbrella was wide open. Funny how something like a simple umbrella was a symbol of hope and calmed me. For the next three weeks, we passed the time visiting family and friends, and it was so comforting to just do something normal like watching grandchildren play.

When we were notified that we could go home September 25, we were in Visalia with friends, so we headed up the mountain in two cars with Louie a little ahead of me. I thought I was ready for the devastation I was about to see because I had seen it on the news and internet. First, there was the char and burned trees. I was ok. Then I saw Cressman’s, and I was ok. Fire trucks were going up and down the highway. As I drove on, I looked up the hill for the familiar houses I saw every time I went up to Shaver: all I could see were chimneys. That’s when it hit me and I started crying. As I drove on, I looked for the house right by the road and saw only a chimney. I could not stop the tears.

I continued to drive up until I got to my neighborhood. I had seen on the news about the heroic neighbors and firefighters who saved Ockenden (see Tori Goss’ story), so I drove onto Cold Springs Road to see for myself. That’s when I saw a fire truck “Fresno County Fire Engine 86” and lost it again. I thanked the fire fighter through my tears then I went home hugged my husband and counted my blessings.