Elin Van Vleet Anderson

Elin Van Vleet Anderson |Ridge Top, Shaver Lake




“I have a project for us.” It was my mom calling from Shaver. My husband, Tim, and I were getting ready to load our dogs into the car and head up to my parents’ house to spend Labor Day weekend like we do almost every year. This year it was different. Covid 19 had closed down almost everything in 2020 so we were looking forward to being able to roam around in the mountains. “The Elderberry bush down the road is full of ripe berries so I want to make Elderberry Jelly,” she said. “Great!” I replied, thinking that sounded like fun. We packed up the canning supplies and headed up the hill Friday after work.


Our dogs always start getting antsy once we’ve passed Cressman’s. They know we are getting close. My parents, Cissy and Peter Van Vleet, live in Ridgetop, which is just beyond Shaver Ranch. It is the first development my dad did in Shaver and is right next to the property his grandparents used to take him to as a kid. Finally, we pulled into their driveway and unloaded the car. After dinner we grabbed our bags and headed up the road to pick our berries.


Later that evening while we were watching TV I noticed a text from my sister, Keri, who lives in Texas asking if I had heard about a fire in the area. I told her that I hadn’t. She had heard something about a fire in the Big Creek area from a Facebook app and noticed the same post plus others from people who have cabins in that area. I told my parents, and we checked the local news feeds but didn’t see anything about a fire.


The next morning we got up early to start our project. My dad said he had seen a report on the fire but at this point it was small and the fire crews would probably be able to contain it. Saturday went on. We went about washing our berries and picking them off of the stems. We kept hearing reports about the growing Creek Fire. It was spreading but still nowhere near us. My parents’ house is on top of a ridge and we could see smoke. Dad pointed to the top of the next ridge and said he would be worried if he saw the fire there. Still no worries.


As the day progressed we kept hearing evacuation notices, first Big Creek then the town of Shaver Lake. When they issued the notice to evacuate everything north of Littlefield Road I started getting nervous. Ridgetop is just south of Littlefield Road. My husband and I started gently suggesting that it might be a good idea to pack up a few things and head down the hill to our house for the night. By late afternoon we had talked them into it. My husband grabbed some family photos from the walls, we took some papers from my dad’s office and they packed a day’s worth of clothes just in case. We went down the hill with the elderberries.


I am glad we came down then. My parents got their official evacuation notice on their cell phones around 2am Sunday morning. We were all safe in Fresno. We continued our jelly making project in my kitchen all the while getting updates on the fire. Reports were all over the place ……the number of structures lost, where the fire was spreading, percent containment, etc. As the day went on, especially when we saw images of Cressman’s and then Shaver Ranch burning on the news, we thought their house was probably gone too. We started to mourn the things we didn’t bring down with us. By the end of the day we had 12 jars of Elderberry Jelly and still a lot of uncertainty.


It wasn’t until a few days later that my dad got a text from a relative on the Volunteer Fire Department showing a picture of our house still there with a big four-point Buck standing on our walkway. What a relief that was. Our family was lucky but sadly many of our friends were not.


It was almost six weeks before my parents were allowed to return home. They spent the time going between our house and my sister’s house in Texas. They still had a house in Shaver but no power or drinkable water.


I remember the first time we drove up to their house after the fire. The forest looked like a science fiction movie. I had spent a good portion of my life in the Shaver Lake area , raking pine needles, swimming in Dinkey Creek, boating, snow skiing and just playing games and hanging out at the old cabin. It felt like my backyard had burned up. I’m sure others felt the same way.


I can only imagine the beauty of the Sierra forest as I remember it. The big trees will not be there again in my lifetime. I came across this Native American proverb,

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Our Mountain Strong community is replanting the forest for our children. We need to continue to work together on forest conservation to make sure future generations will have a beautiful backyard to play in.


The end.