Ed Hanson

Ed Hanson |Pine Ridge

5-3-22

Shaver Lake and Creek Fire Reminiscence

 

We had long yearned to have our own slice of heaven in the Sierras.  A place where we could create a homestead, raise our two kids, and enjoy our lives under the canopies of the large sugar pines, firs, and cedars.  We searched for many years until we found our place in 2007.  Located on Pine Ridge near Cressman road, it had the space and rural atmosphere we were seeking as well as comradery of the neighbors of a wonderful community.  The property was unestablished, without buildings, water, or electricity.  There was a thick forest of trees, not far from highway 168, very private, and perfect. 

 

We spent most weekends visiting the property and working on it to clear brush, establish a well, electricity, septic, and plan every detail of our dream home.  We had a five-year plan to begin construction of our “forever” home.  After what seemed like hundreds of revisions to draft sketches, we finally settled on our perfect design.  Not too big and not too small.  A log home with a walkout basement/garage.

 

In 2011, we added two more children to our family and broke ground on the house structure itself.  The foundation and walk out basement/garage went up quickly and there was a long delay of little progress until November of 2012 when the logs for the house finally arrived. 

 

That was when the community fun really began for us.  Many neighbors and friends arrived to help erect the log home.  Big tools, a junky old crane, and hard work by everyone that came by were typical days to come.  The process of stacking the logs went on for a few months because the snow came in shortly after the log arrival.  It took nearly as much time shoveling snow as it did to fit all the logs in place.  For the next couple of years of weekend construction, it was common for friends or neighbors to show up just to lend a hand.  We will forever be grateful to them for that. It really showed us how special and wonderful this tight knit community is.

 

The home was completed in 2014, and we moved in that June.  We added another child in 2015 and I joined the Pine Ridge Volunteer Fire Department in 2016.  Fire seasons were becoming more and more intense.  We could only hope that we would be ready for it when it did.  The extended drought that followed had opened a path for the bark beetles to overwhelm the already weakened trees.  We lost over 300 trees on our small acreage and it thinned our forest to an extreme.  Most of the felled trees were over 100 years old.  I found use in the dead trees after purchasing a small sawmill and turning the logs into large timber posts and beams.  I had a vision of building a grand timber framed barn.  That was going to be the next large project, but the Creek Fire in 2020 reduced the hundreds of milled timbers to ash along with everything else, including our beautiful home and forest.

 

On the evening of Friday, September 4th, 2020, my wife came home from Fresno and told me there was a fire reported near the community of Big Creek.  That night we learned that the fire was out of control and heading toward that community.  People were evacuating.  On Saturday, I assisted some of our personnel from the PRVFD to ensure our equipment was ready if needed.  A pre-evacuation notice was issued for our community and an evacuation notice for the communities between us and Shaver.  The PRVFD was on standby awaiting the call to join the efforts.  We watched the massive plume of smoke off in the distance, about 11 miles by line of sight, making its own weather.  The wind was picking up and it seemed like the monster storm was drawing in all the air from the valley to feed it.

My family packed up their most important things and went down to stay with extended family in Hanford, which allowed me to focus efforts on the community and certain work to come with the fire department.  At this point, I was still certain there was no way the fire would get to us, but even if it did our place would be fine.  It was built extremely fire conscious and had massive clearings in all directions.

 

Early Sunday morning the evacuation notice came to the Cressmans community.  The smoke was extremely thick.  Several of us, from PRVFD, assisted our community members with evacuation.  I spent a good part of the day ensuring our gear and trucks were all ready to go.  Later that evening when it got dark, I could clearly see the large orange glow from the top of our property and could only imagine what was going on in the communities up hill.  The wall of fire was only a couple of miles away at that point.  I had a large four-wheel drive federal fire engine, E268, in my driveway ready to go.  Eventually, I too needed to evacuate, but before I left, I went to each of my immediate neighbors’ houses, double checked how fire safe they left things, and headed out myself.  I ran into law enforcement on the way out.  The officer told me there was only one home that was left to evacuate and they weren’t leaving.  I guess they eventually did.

 

Early Tuesday morning, information sources showed the fire had made its way through our neighborhood.  I entered the zone to see for myself and to provide any assistance where I could.  I saw no other tire tracks through the ash so I suspected I may have been the first to enter our neighborhood.  It was extremely smokey, I couldn’t see more than twenty feet, very much a warzone.  The road was littered with rocks, burning trees, and downed power lines so I had to park and make my way in on foot.  I found nothing but devastation and nearly every structure I came upon had been diminished to ashes, including our own home.  I met up with our fire chief, who had been working on the fire for several days by this point.  He was exhausted and had also just learned he had lost his home.  We drove up to the station in Shaver and it was very hard for us to make those phone calls to let our family, friends, and neighbors know the status of their homes.  Over the next several days, I returned to help ensure the active fire that remained in the area did not overtake the few remaining homes on Glenwood.  Others with the PRVFD stayed on for several weeks to ensure the fire in the community was controlled.

 

This unfortunate event brought the community together in such an amazing way.  The charity and support from our extended community all the way through the Central Valley is something I couldn’t have ever imagined.  Now, over a year later, it is great to see some new homes in construction.  We plan to rebuild, but ours will take some time.