Opening for the season May 5, 2023. Spring hours: Friday-Sunday 11-3
Robert Golden | Auberry, Meadow Lakes, Bald Mountain
9- 5- 22
Urgency, with compassion…
When the Creek Fire began, in early September of two thousand twenty, nobody grasped the scope of what was to come. Four months later and 380,000 acres burned by the end of December, all the stories of the heroics can never be told. Heroics may be the wrong phrase……humanity, may be more appropriate.
By the end of December, the lives of all those in the mountain communities would be changed forever, and no life would be lost.
I can only speak for what I witnessed, as a volunteer for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue team. We were called, as volunteers, to assist in evacuations, and to assist the Sheriff’s Department, Cal-Fire, United States Forest Service, and all other agencies who were assigned to the fire.
So, here are my memories:
We assisted in evacuating folks who needed help leaving their homes. This included helping pack, not just belongings, but pets and livestock too. The Mounted Unit of Search and Rescue supplied trucks, trailers, and skills, to move large animals off the mountain, and into donated holding facilities such as the Clovis Rodeo Grounds and Urrutia Livestock yards.
We were asked to save the mail in the Auberry Post Office. Yes, almost everything in the post office, will fit in a Jeep. And, yes, the lady postmaster made certain that everything was packed, and moved, to be sent to those displaced.
As the fire spread, and larger areas were forced to evacuate, the Sheriff’s Department used us to check on properties that people had rushed to leave….
I remember checking on a koi fishpond near Meadow Lakes. The homeowners asked that someone feed their fish if they had survived the fire. We found their home still standing, and the fish healthy……We also found a hand written note from Cal-Fire members, that listed who had already checked and fed the fish, with dates and words of encouragement, for when the homeowners returned.
Then, there was “Honey“.
“Honey” is a dog, that got left behind, near Meadow Lakes. Nobody really knows her true name. A fire crew from Arizona found her on “Honey Lane,” burned, bruised, but alive. They kept her in their fire truck all night until the next morning. They shared their food and water with her, and named her “Honey,” because it was Honey Lane where they rescued her.
We took her from the Arizona fire team, and transported her to a veterinarian clinic in Fresno. She came out just fine.
Every agency worked together to help safeguard the community. People from all across this nation, came together.
I can only speak from my experience, as a volunteer for Fresno County Sheriff’s Department Jeep SAR team. We were asked to rescue, or feed and water animals left behind, when folks had no time to get home as the fire spread.
We were asked to transport Cal-Fire battalion chiefs into the back country in our vehicles, and we did. We were asked to transport food, water. In one case that I personally know of, medicine was delivered to a firefighter from Auberry, who was assigned to the Bald Mountain Fire station during the fire.
People from the mountains, gave food, water, and shelter to their fellow man. Often, to total strangers, who became like family, beneath the clouds of smoke, and a red sun.
I’ll always remember “Honey”, and how she and the firefighters never gave up.
These are memories, that come first.
The truth is, other memories haunt and also lift me.
I watched total strangers become friends, while trying to escape. And I saw friends become family, as they helped each other. I saw a community, provide food, shelter, and comfort.
As a “volunteer” of twenty years, this was the first time I watched men and women age right before my eyes. The safety of the people in the community, and the safety of folks like me, weighed heavy on those who directed us in our duty.
The people who orchestrated the response, from Cal-Fire, to the Sierra National Forest, to The Sheriff’s Department, worked together.
I lost nothing in this fire, except memories of what the mountains used to be.
What I gained was a respect for the men and women of the community, and the men and women who swore to protect them.
I hope I never witness this again. But, I witnessed the best in people, and this is something I shall never forget. Urgency, with compassion, is what I saw in every person who fought this fire, evacuated people and, most importantly, saved every human life.
I’ll never know all the background folks who made it possible to save lives.
But, I know the folks on the frontline, a lot better now.
Urgency, with compassion…