John Mount | Meadow Lakes
Oral Interview with CSRF Volunteer Lisa Monteiro
My name is John Mount and I live in Meadow Lakes. On the day of the start of the fire my wife Dona said to me, “There’s a fire in Big Creek,” and I said, “Oh, okay. How big?” And she says, “Oh, it’s about a half an acre.” And I said, “Just absolutely no problem, don’t worry about it, they’ll get that real quick. It’s right there by the Forest Service, it’s right there. Don’t worry about it.” The next morning, we got up and Dona said, “Well, the fire is 1000 acres” and I said, “Okay, that’s no big deal. It can’t possibly get to us. It’s just going to go up the hill. There’s a lot of fuel there but still, no big deal.” A little bit later, she says, “John, the fire is 5,000 acres” and I said, “yeah, but that’s still no big deal because it’s not going to come down to us at all.” Then a little bit later she told me to look at the fire. To go see the cloud. I did. It was sticking up above the trees, I said, “Oh, that’s really taken off, they’re going to have their hands full.hat’s going to probably affect Shaver but definitely Big Creek, but there’s no problem for us. Don’t worry about it.”
Then, four or five hours later, we’re packing up the car and heading out because we had been evacuated. We evacuated a lot sooner than other people. As soon as we heard about it because we knew it was going to get crowded and all that kind of stuff. We called friends and said “We’re being evacuated,” and they told us to come on down. So we loaded up, put in everything we could. But again, I said, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll only be gone a couple of days. It’s just no big deal. They should catch that very easily.” We watched the plume get bigger and bigger and bigger.
We headed down and as we’re driving I am wondering how they are going to evacuate people. On the way down we passed approximately 20 police type vehicles from all over the Valley. I mean they were from Hanford and all the different police departments from all over the Valley. They had mobilized them. I said, “Holy cow, they must be getting worried about this fire!” We headed on down after we passed them and arrived at our friend’s house.
We stayed there 18 days. Yeah, it was a very long time. I thought we would be gone two days or so and all of a sudden it’s 18 days and I’m running out of underwear and clothes. But a lot of things were happening. First of all, friends of ours bought us a bunch of clothes. It was just wonderful, and there were way too many clothes for use. We knew where all our other friends from Shaver were staying at a hotel in Clovis, so we loaded the stuff we didn’t need and we took it over to them and they all got some clothes. It was really neat the way people were jumping in.
Three or four days, maybe five days into the fire, I got a phone call from Dave Pomaville with Fresno County. They asked me what I thought about getting a task force to handle water runoff issues that will be coming, because there’s going to be a lot of erosion. I began to sit in on those meetings. There was a guy that had headed up the Watershed Task Force, after the Thomas fire in Santa Barbara, when they had all of those big floods that wiped out Montecito, tremendous floods. People were killed and lots of homes wiped out that hadn’t been wiped out by that fire. The guy that headed up that task force was brought in by Fresno County and Fresno County asked me what I think, and I said to definitely hire him. The County says “Yeah, we’ll think about it.” And I say, “No, right now.” So they did, they hired him immediately. I was busy on the phone with the Watershed Task Force people almost every day. Even though I was evacuated I had my computer and everything else, so I was able to attend these watershed meetings and work on the fire.
The most significant thing to me was that at some point in time, we got pictures of our house from friends that went by and saw it was okay. When we knew our house was okay it was a huge relief. I had no idea how bad the smoke was. I have breathed smoke, because I’ve lit fires for years and years and years. I’m used to breathing and smelling smoke. But the smoke that was settling in from this fire was absolutely horrific. It’s amazing, I’ve heard lots of stories about people having to go to the hospital, and of course we still had COVID going on. But people were going into the hospital, because that smoke exacerbated COVID, asthma, or just allergies. It was horrendous smoke down there, it just was terrible. The smoke was so bad because the fire was so complete. When I say complete, I mean it burned up so much stuff. It burned way more than a normal fire because of the intensity of that fire. There were a lot more particulates in the air because of this. Also, so many buildings and structures were hit and destroyed with that fire, so many other particulates from furniture, from paint, from all that other stuff was in the air so it was very, very, very bad. Even with the smoke I walked every morning we were evacuated, even though they were telling people not to be outdoors. I walked for several days before I even saw the glow of the sun, that’s how thick the smoke was in Fresno.
As a forester that has been talking about and writing about what is coming for years, this fire has elevated my story dramatically. For years and years and years I’ve been talking about forest management. Now all of a sudden everybody’s listening, and it’s very bittersweet. It’s sad, but I have not said, and I will not say, “I told you so.” Everybody has said that already. Everybody says to me, “Aren’t you proud of your work?” and I say “No. I look at it as if I was a failure. Because if I had really been successful, the fire would not have done that.”
The most dramatic experience, of course, was when we got home. The way we drove home there was absolutely no fire since there’s a little lane there that wasn’t affected by the fire going up on Auberry Road, so it was several days before we saw what happened, before we saw the full extent of the damage from the fire. That was very traumatic for us. A lot of my experience is now after the fire. That’s why I’ve been so busy, so I will be living with this fire for, well maybe the next 100 years. I hope to see what happens.