Karen Dondero

Karen Dondero | Shaver Springs


It’s been a year now, I still get emotional when we talk about it. I was born and raised in Big Creek,  my dad worked for Edison, my mom for the US Forest Service.  My parents retired and built a home in Shaver Springs in the 70’s. Dad passed in 2001 and my husband and I moved from Bishop to be with Mom and help her with the property. Seventeen acres. My mom passed in 2013. My husband Steve worked for Cal Trans and retired from the Shaver yard in 2014. I retired from SUSD in 2018. This became our forever home.

On Sept 4th, we heard there was a fire down in Camp Sierra. They said it was contained. The next day we were able to see the plumes from our front porch, which faced the East. We decided to put the trailer on the back of the truck so we would be ready if we had to go. My husband had just had an operation and he wasn’t able to move around very well yet, so I hooked up the trailer and put on the quads.

We went to bed that night and at 3 am my husband woke me up and said we had smoke in the house. I immediately started putting things together and was in panic mode. It didn’t seem real.  I started working in the house. I didn’t know where to begin. My important papers were a mess, so I started putting them together. Then I took my pictures off the walls—those are the most important things to me– our memories. We didn’t take any clothes. We were just thinking important documents, family bible, my husband’s hunting rifles, memories…  As we worked packing and moving boxes toward the back porch my husband kept saying not to open the doors or go outside till we got the evacuation warning but the smoke was so thick we had to cover our faces with watered down bandanas.

Then we got a call from my daughter saying, “Mom, get out. You guys need to get out of there, they’re saying that 168 could be compromised.” So we started loading.  My dogs were panicked at this point, so I got them into our Tahoe.  We loaded up what we could. I asked my husband if I should wet everything down, but he said,  “No, we’ve got to go.”

The smoke was so bad we couldn’t even see across our road. It was just thick.  We started driving and that’s when it hit me. The tears started and wouldn’t stop. I saw people in Shaver Springs were starting to move around and get things loaded in their cars as we passed. We made it down to my daughter’s in Clovis and we spent the night down there.

My daughter from Bishop called and said, “Mom, we have the scanner going. It’s not good.” So then we listened to the scanners and I heard them say “We’ve got to pull out.” I knew then–they had to pull out of the back lots because it was coming. Just kept praying in hopes it wouldn’t take our home. The worst feeling was not knowing. I’m not sure of the date we found out, but a dear friend let us know it was gone.

My husband and I were fortunate because we had a place to stay. My daughter’s home was a blessing. In February we moved to Bishop, California. We travel several times a month for Dr. appointments and checking on our property. We still get our mail there.

I guess as we move on things are supposed to get better. But I’m still in roller coaster mode a year later. Some days are really good. Some days are not so good. I wish I was able to be back on our property.  It’s coming along and we may be able to move back in the fall of 2022.

We have a good support system. Family first, our kids have been amazing. Our grandchildren, our friends that spent countless hours making sure we had the essentials and the Catholic Church getting things moving on the property.

This year we will miss Thanksgiving on the property.  Last year my son Daron arranged to have Thanksgiving on the property. He surprised us! Full-on turkey dinner outside. All my children and their children were there and we made great memories.