Ron and Rose Cates

Ron & Rose Cates | Alder Springs



Many people seem to have an almost hour by hour recall of the Labor Day weekend when the fire started.  For me, I really struggle with even the days.  Not sure why, but let’s start earlier with the story of how we came to live on the mountain.

We owned a cabin in Alder Springs from 2003 to August of 2020 and Alder Springs is part of the story for us.  We absolutely loved the place.  It was so green and lush and in its own little microclimate.  Trees, ferns, wildflowers, great people too.  Lots of history there with cabins going back to the days of stagecoaches.  Our cabin was called “Rocky Chalet,” we think due to all the rock terraces. It was a beautiful vacation cabin.

We loved the area too and our long-term plan was to live in the area full time, so we purchased a property about a ¼ mile away and reluctantly sold Rocky Chalet, closing on the sale less than a month before the Creek Fire destroyed it.  We sold it to Drew Nelson’s parents.  Drew and his wife Allyson Brooks lived behind and above Rocky Chalet and we were so happy it was staying in the family, so to speak.  Sadly, they never got to see the place before it burned. 

As anyone who owns an old cabin like the ones in Alder Springs knows, they are a labor of love.  Like the repainting of the Golden Gate Bridge, you start at one spot and seemingly just keep moving around the place repainting, fixing wood rot, improving this, fixing that and then starting over.  17 years …we will never forget Rocky Chalet and Alder Springs.  It was a painful loss even though we had sold it.  Hope some people return and rebuild and enjoy the now amazing views. 

If we were going to live in the mountains full time, we needed a place built newer than 1959!  We purchased a place just up the road in April 2019 as our long-term plan while we lived and worked in the Bay Area.  Covid hit, Ron was laid off, and we moved in full time much sooner than we could have imagined!  Big curveball for sure.

We worked hard over the next few months cleaning, clearing, cutting, piling, burning, and hauling off brush to create even more defensible space.  If you looked at the property from a satellite image, it had some of the largest clearances on the ridge.  We made every effort to not be overconfident.  While we cleaned the property, we settled into a good life together after a forced relocation.  Good times, good memories living our dream in the mountains. 

Labor Day weekend 2020 came. We obviously knew about the fire start, heard about the rapid spread.  Obviously we could see the smoke column as well, with it eventually growing into a massive pyrocumulonimbus, mushroom cloud looking formation.  At night we watched the fire creeping up to the far-off ridges knowing fire doesn’t move easily downslope.  At some point we started seeing vary large air tankers coming in and I recall going outside and literally cheering them on thinking that now we might make some progress.  Sadly, they couldn’t gain access to the fire.

The glow was scary and got scarier the second night.  At some point the cloud collapsed and visibility went way down and it was like a hell scape.  We really still didn’t think our place could burn.  Nevertheless, we started packing some things.  We got the cars out, we got the quad out.  As we returned from our second trip to our family on Lodge Road, we saw signs marking each property and sheriffs at a house.  We asked them what was going on and they told us it was a mandatory evacuation and we had about 20 minutes to get ready before they escorted us out…

 I hope you never experience this.  It’s overwhelming and frightening and feels emotional even as I write this more than 2 years later.  We got back to the house and started scrambling.  Rose took videos of everything we had, gathered artwork, some pictures. It was such chaos!  I was outside running all the big sprinkler heads we had for fire protection all over the property, watering down the roof, moving all flammables away from the building like they say you should.  We looked for anything we could do to save our place.  In all the chaos we left behind boxes of family pictures now lost forever and so many other things.  Everything we did save is a “survivor” and has special meaning.

We landed at our good friend Paula’s home in Clovis and it was an amazing refuge.  It was so stressful.  Our first night at Paula’s we got a call from the alarm company that a smoke sensor went off.  We hoped that was all it was…smoke intrusion.  Sadly, the next day or maybe it was two (I think) while I was at the first day of my new job, I got a call from an ex-Sheriff that had access that our place was gone.  Devastating. 

The work of a lifetime, gone.  Starting over.  A new job you can’t lose if you want to rebuild.  Stress upon stress for us.  What to do?  We immediately decided to rebuild.  We contacted a builder that cared, contacted an architect and within 3 weeks had conceptual plans.  We broke ground in April 2021 and Pius Construction’s team had us moved in in November 2021.  We will always be grateful to them.  They fought for us at every step.  So many others helped in so many ways.

I’d hate to think of where we would be without the focus of the rebuild.  It was costly to rebuild in so many ways, but we are back and couldn’t be happier.  So many others for so many reasons can’t rebuild at all or their rebuild is delayed.  It is a multi-year effort to rebuild communities after an event like this.  Know that many are still displaced and hurting and support local rebuild efforts is what I would ask.  Have insurance, don’t be underinsured like we were, have a plan to evacuate, and keep working on fire clearance.  Thanks for reading.