Robin Calderwood


Robin Calderwood | Peterson Road


Oral Interview with CSRF Volunteer Lisa Monteiro

On Friday when the fire happened, we all sat around the driveway looking at the big plume of smoke. Thinking that the fire is never going to come twenty miles downhill. I went to work Saturday morning and my boss, James Weirick, said to me “What the hell are you doing here?!” and I said  “I know it’s Saturday but there is a break in the water line”  he said “no, there’s a fire, you need to go home, you need to get you and your horse out now.” I left immediately. I was by myself and on the way home and thinking how I was going to drive my car, get my truck and horse trailer. I had a lot of logistics running through my head all of a sudden. 

I found a neighbor who was walking along the road and I asked her to get in the car.  She gets in the car, she asked where we were going, I told her we’re going to my house on Peterson Road.  You’re driving the truck and I’m getting my car we’re going to get the horse. We were calling around trying to find a place to home a horse, which isn’t so easy when everyone else with animals is trying to do the same thing. We finally got everything hooked up, I got the horse. I was so focused on getting the horse that I did not take anything out of my house. I had a truck with an empty eight-foot bed, and my friend asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to take anything. I just wanted to focus on making sure we got the horse out safely. I told her that I would come back later. We got the horse situated down by the high school, I had some friends who took him in. By the time we tried to get back up, to load up items from my house it was too late, they wouldn’t let us. I have family in Los Angeles so I evacuated there for the first eight days.

I was watching the fire on my phone and my phone is just blowing up. I’m watching my neighbor’s houses going up in flames, one after the other, after the other. Then I saw that it had burned Cressman’s.  That was a moment. It hit Peterson and Cressman road and took off burning everything. The house was gone, I knew it was after sitting there and watching all of the videos. Nathan Magisg was doing filmed drives through neighborhoods, but no one was going down Peterson. It is a difficult road, if you have driven it you know. I wasn’t getting any confirmation, but I knew. I finally got a hold of one firefighter, Mark Helm, who went there in the middle of the night, and called me on Wednesday at 2am. He had been in my house before; you have to know where it is to get there as it isn’t clear to see from the road. Mark said he got to the house and he said “the smoke is so thick. I can’t see anything” so I was guiding him and telling him where to walk, “go left, turn at this spot, you should see it now” and he just said “it’s, it’s gone, it’s gone and then he checked the barn, he goes the barn is gone.”  He said, “everything’s burning, you know, everything’s burning”. As sad as it was to hear, I am so grateful that he went out of his way, and went in there and could confirm it for me.  

My horse got evacuated to behind the High School, which was behind the evacuation line so I couldn’t see my horse for six weeks. The McConnell’s cared for him and they did a fantastic job. When I dropped him off, I had told them I would pick him up Thursday, the same week. I didn’t get to get him back until three months later. I had no place to put him, my place was gone and they weren’t even letting anybody back. There’s no water, no electric, no nothing.  At one point the McConnells were getting evacuated and I was frantically calling them asking what I needed to do.  They said not to worry they were not going anywhere. They’re staging at the high school still and the McConnell’s have a cattle ranch.  The cows have eaten everything down enough in that area so they were staying put.

Six weeks later when I did get to see my horse, he was not well. He had just been so stressed, and he felt abandoned–I just dropped him off one day in a world he didn’t know and a place he didn’t know the language. He was with cows now and he’d never seen a cow in his life. He felt abandoned, and so he was super stressed, and high stress levels in animals can cause them to get Cushing’s Disease. He did get Cushing’s Disease and I evacuated him to Clovis which was closer to where I was now staying.  I spent $8,000 trying to keep them alive. He ended up with liver failure. On March 5th he had to be put down. He was a perfectly happy and healthy horse September 5th and March 5th he was a dead horse. He didn’t understand. He was 26 years old, middle-aged, but he still had a lot of life left in him and he was so healthy. 

My parents lived in Southern California. My house burned down in September. My dad died in June and my mom died on Christmas because she couldn’t live without my dad. They were married 65 years. Once the house burned down, I wasn’t visiting her enough to keep her from being depressed.  With COVID she was isolating in a house that she had just lost her husband of 65 years in. I think she felt abandoned too, so it was the same thing as my horse. I tried to get down there to see her but with the loss of the house came a lot of insurance stuff and being at the property.  Her health just went downhill, and then she ended up in the hospital and she didn’t recover. I see it as another after effect of the Creek Fire, all of this loss, the ripple effects. 

I guess my way of dealing with it is not dealing with it. There has been so much, I was put in an apartment and I just try to get through each day. I try to keep myself busy, I’m a workaholic now, more so than I’ve ever been. Luckily, I am seeking some therapy, it’s hard to see the world move on.  My insurance has done really well by me and they have put me up, but I live down the hill now. With that move comes another loss, the loss of my community, your support group. I lost neighbors, friends, and some of my neighbors who survived were afraid to contact me because they had survivor’s guilt. Some just don’t know what to say. I think losing the community support was really tough. You know that was one more loss, and you realize that loss once you’re back up here. Initially it was hard because you just feel abandoned. I wondered “Where are my people? Are they not my people anymore?” Everybody’s got their own thing. It has all been very overwhelming and still is.