Jem Bluestein

 Jem Bluestein | Auberry- Sugarloaf Road, Musick Creek


Oral Interview with CSRF Volunteer Lisa Monteiro

My name is Jem Bluestein and I live down in beautiful downtown Academy right off Highway 168. Our music and arts community owns 100 acres out on Sugarloaf and 134 acres on Musick Creek below Dogwood Mountain subdivision. The day the creek fire blew everybody said, “Oh don’t worry about it, it’s not going to get that far and it would take days, even if it did.”

That afternoon my daughter Masha said, “We have got to get up there to the Sugarloaf property.” We got up there to Sweet’s Mill and when we looked out there was a mushroom cloud over Big Creek. It was about dinnertime, we didn’t stop to eat, we just got to work, loading up what we had to and helping the people there that we needed to.  It was dark when we drove over to Alder Springs Road to take a quick look. We saw the fire there coming around Musick Mountain, and below Sugarloaf. There were some other people there including some fire personnel, and we were all basically watching it and shitting bricks. Now at that point I’m thinking, “I know where this is gonna go.” You could see it coming across above Big Creek to Shaver, and it was coming around below towards Jose Basin, and we’re right in the path of both of those.

When’s the best time to stop a forest fire? 20 years before it starts. Well the Sugarloaf property got burned over a couple of times in recent years and we’ve done a lot of fuel reduction work there so we did not lose everything in the Creek Fire. And, I mean we’re watching the heat maps, you know, the fire maps for weeks. We’re watching the fire blow over it this way that way and the other way, at least three times—but it didn’t consume it because we had done our homework over 50 years.

The Musick Creek place, we had been on a crash program for 25 years. Since we bought that place we’ve gotten federal and state grant support for fuel reduction and worked our asses off. We realized that those 134 acres are an absolute choke point for the fire that we knew was coming soon, up from Jose Basin, since all the public lands and private land surrounding us for miles in every direction was just an inferno waiting to happen. We turned our land in the bottom of Musick Creek into an effective fuel break to stop the fire when it comes. And it worked. When we saw that fire coming around that night, we were just saying, “Okay, we did what we could.” This is where the pedal hits the metal. There was nothing we could do at that point except go back and rescue some more people and some more equipment and belongings off the mountain for the next week. Then for the next couple of months we had a barn load and a house load of refugees, down in Academy. There was even one night where my daughter had us cutting fireline at a home in Academy because it was that iffy, the direction and speed of that Creek Fire.

Later we went back and we could see right where the fire stopped at the Sweet’s Mill, Sugarloaf place. It was right where my wife had cut a little line by hand. We had a road above it, we had thinned some of the forest above that and the fire came through both of those. They slowed it down, but it hit her hand-cut line and it stopped.

As for Musick Creek, the lower half of our property got vaporized in the space of one breath when that monster came up from Jose Basin. But, as it did that, we starved that sucker and we did something that did not happen anywhere else on this fire– we stopped that fire dead in full flaming rage right where it hit our steeper property, right in the creek bed of Musick Creek. At that point the fire would have gone ballistic up the steep canyon and right through Shaver Lake and clear past Dinkey Creek, like it did from Big Creek and Stevenson clear up to Mammoth and Kaiser, like it did to Cressman around to Blue Canyon etc. The aerial footage that shows where we stopped that fire, and even the spot fires that went ahead of the big fire. It put itself out in our clean forest, and we saved many neighbors. There’s a fan of green that spreads out from our place in that creek bed up into the parts of Dogwood Mountain that didn’t burn, up to the parts of Stevenson Mountain that didn’t burn and right on up into Shaver.

So that’s my little story. The only other thing, the Seedlings of Hope program, has given us a lot of hope, we have planted a lot of trees along our lower creek property. They’re growing like crazy already. Anybody who’s interested in experiencing or volunteering or seeing what we have done, we want to show others. It’s not about accolades, I know a lot of people saved Shaver, John Mount and his wise forestry practices, all of the responders, firefighters and everything.  But we saved it from below, from certain destruction. When I drive through this forest, (greater Shaver area) I’m looking at it and I’m saying this forest needs our help—because we saved it from the creek fire, it is still too thick and vulnerable. Saving the forest and people’s connection to it is my life.

Thank you for taking our stories and for all the help!