On Friday, September 4, 2020, my family and I left for our annual church backpacking trip near Florence Lake. There were probably 30 people in our group of all ages. The littlest kid we had was probably four or five years old. We all drove up to Florence Lake, took the little ferry across the lake and then hiked the four miles to the campsite.
Camp Sierra is less than a mile up canyon from where the Creek Fire started. At the time I was the President of the Camp Sierra Conference Association which runs a nonprofit group camp. At the time, the camp was surrounded by 71 private cabins in the Sierra National Forest.
A different perspective.
My Creek Fire experience is a little different than many that are told from a first-hand, on-the-scene account. I bore witness while those I loved were dealing with the trauma & the fear. I monitored as many scanner feeds & information as I could to give to others who also had loved ones up there.
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.
Growing up in the mountains is the best. We climbed high up into the treetops, built forts, rode motorcycles to friends’ houses taking the backroads, collected and dried flowers, played at the lake for entire days, had intensely fast and steep sledding hills and appreciated feeling the seasons. It also meant that there was an ever present and very rational fear of forest fires.
The Gault family has been a part of the Central Sierras for 70 years. It started with my father-in-law, Wayne Gault, who came to this area as a young boy with his parents. He attended Big Creek Elementary School in 1949 and 1950. His parents purchased a cabin in Shaver Lake to use as a vacation home.
Monday, September 7th 2020, 3:30 PM: As flames raced south across Jose Basin, very few residents remained on Cressman Road before evacuating. Those of us left were either scrambling to pack up the last of our irreplaceable items or trying to prepare properties for the inevitable.
Home at last. At least that is what Mom (Florence Thomason) thought when she arrived each summer at the Acres. Each year she wanted to stay and never leave. Dad (Gordon Thomason) would not hear of it. His home was in the desert, Apple Valley to be exact.
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.
I will never forget the night the fire started. The night of the fire my mom put me to bed. She said, “It is going to be all right, the fire is not that bad.” The next thing I knew my mom was waking me up.