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The Gault Family| Pine Ridge
by: Breanne Gault
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. Wayne spent his teenage years in Newport, CA where he met Barbara. They would visit Shaver and decided they wanted to raise their family here. They welcomed Lance Gault, in 1973, soon after they purchased the family cabin. In 1977, they welcomed their second son, Dylan Gault. Their love for this area was instilled in my husband, Dylan and his brother Lance. They grew up hiking, backpacking and skiing. This mountain holds a dear place in their hearts.
Both Lance and Dylan attended Pine Ridge Elementary School and Sierra High School and then went off to college. They both returned to our beautiful mountain community. Barbara and Wayne are still full-time residents in Shaver Lake. Wayne owns Blue Line Designs and is a local draftsman.
I also spent a lot of time in Shaver growing up. My parents would bring my sister and I to Shaver to go camping and to go boating on the lake. My mom and her parents also spent a lot of time in Shaver when she was growing up. Shaver has a special place in all our hearts.
Our family has grown as the years have gone on, Lance married Jennifer and they have four children, Andrew, Joshua, Jacob and Mia. Lance and his family reside in Clovis, CA and come to Shaver Lake as much as they can. Dylan and I married in 2010, we have two boys, Grayson and Zackary. We are educators in our community, Dylan teaches mathematics at Sierra High School and I teach at Pine Ridge Elementary School. We love that our boys are going to school where Dylan and his brother went, along with many children of childhood friends.
In September 2019, Dylan and I found our dream home on the Ridge. It was the perfect place, close to family, friends and all of the adventures we enjoy as a family.
September 4, 2020: This day was like any other day. Dylan I and got home from work and noticed a tiny plume of smoke from our back deck, which looked out towards Shaver. We had a nice evening, we went down to town and purchased some flowers to plant around our house.
September 5, 2020: We received a phone call around 6:30am from my mother-in-law. She had heard news that there was a significant fire near Big Creek. It was a bit smokey at our house, but we didn’t think much of it. We spent the day doing chores, planting our flowers that we purchased the night before, cleaning the house and doing laundry. As the day went on, we got some updates from my mother-in-law, it was becoming a more serious situation. My brother and sister-in-law were heading up to Shaver help them pack up and evacuate. I was getting worried. As I completed laundry, I started packing some bags. Throughout the day we watched the plume of smoke get larger. I was making phone calls to friends to see what their plans were for evacuating. As night came, we had some family friends, along with my in-laws come to our house. They were evacuating from Shaver and headed to Clovis, for what we thought would be a couple of days. We all sat on our back deck watching the fire on the ridge above Shaver. It was glowing red. We could see the dozers trying to cut a fire line and we could see tress exploding. Once everyone left, we decided to gather our animals in case we needed to leave in a hurry in the middle of the night. I asked our boys (8 years old and 6 years old) to gather anything they would like to have from their bedrooms. We staged an area in our garage of things we needed to pack in the cars before we went to bed.
September 6, 2020: We woke up around 6:00 am on Sunday, September 6th. It was so smokey, we could barely see. The smoke was filling our house even though the windows and doors were closed. It looked like it was snowing outside with all the ash that was falling. At this point, we decided we needed pack up and evacuate. The order was a voluntary evacuation at this point, but we decided it was best for our family to get down the hill to safety. I loaded my car with all we could fit along with our boys. Dylan decided he was going to finish getting the items on the deck put away and then he would meet us in Clovis at my brother- and sister-in-law’s house.
As I drove away from our house, I was holding back the tears, trying to be brave for our boys. Our oldest asked “Mom, are we going to come back?” All that I could say was, “We can only think positive and know that we did all we could to protect our house. As long as we have each other and we are safe, that is all that matters.” As we made our way down the 4 lanes, there was a long line of cars and trucks at the bottom. I called Dylan and told him to go down Auberry Road to avoid the traffic.
Once we got to Clovis, we felt better being with family and friends. Dylan, his brother Lance, a good friend and my father-in-law Wayne, had decided to go back to our property to cut more trees to hopefully direct the fire away from our house. They went back to our house mid-day and cut an additional 30-40 trees towards the bottom of our property in hopes that would be enough to help save our home.
September 7, 2020: We woke up feeling tired and nervous, we had been watching the news and getting updates from many friends who work for Cal Fire. Dylan and his brother, Lance, decided to go back up to the Ridge to help one of our best friends, Ty Gillett, work on trees at Cressman’s General Store. They were trying their best to protect Cressman’s. Dylan, Lance, Ty, Chad and others worked all day to fall trees around Cressman’s.
As we waited in Clovis for updates from them, we were also getting updates from our friends and from the news that the fire was progressing at a fast rate. News was that it would reach the Ridge and Cressman’s Gerneral Store by 1:30am. Many family and friends were surrounding us during this time, what an amazing gift to be surrounded by such love and support. It was around 9:45 pm when I got a phone call from my husband. All Dylan said was, “It’s all gone!” I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. The fire had come several hours earlier than expected. How could this be? He then sent me a video from the Vista Point on the 4 lanes. It was unbelievable.
Dylan told me that they were joined by a Cal Fire Crew. They had asked the crew if they could stay and help. They were partnered with a firefighter to help fight the fire. They were also instructed that if they heard the horn blare, they had to get out immediately. The flames they saw at Cressman’s were 200 feet tall and the embers being thrown from the fire were huge. Dylan said he could feel the “fire breathing”. The fire fighters along with Dylan and our friends had NEVER seen anything like this before. When Dylan got back down to Clovis, the look on his face said it all. Based on what he had seen, he believed everything on the Ridge was gone. That night was the longest night ever. We slept for about 1 hour. We were staying with Dylan’s best friend from high school, Alex Magallon, and his family. Alex and his wife Erika spent most of the night talking with us and helping sort through all of our thoughts.
September 8, 2020: Still surrounded by family and friends, we were waiting to hear the official status of our home. We were sitting around, chatting and watching the kids play. It was just after lunch we when received a phone call and then a text message photo to let us know our house was gone. It is all a blur, but we will never forget the moment we saw our house flattened and parts still on fire.
As the days passed, we waited to hear about our friends and their houses. We continued to watch the news for updates on the fire. The days were a mix of emotions, happiness for those who had their homes survive and sadness for those who did lose their homes. As things began to settle, we found out that the town of Shaver Lake made it, along with our school, Pine Ridge. These were definitely little victories.
Being with family and friends going through the same thing was such a source of strength. We were there to lean on each other, mourn the losses and celebrate the little wins. Every single home still standing was a beacon of light, giving us a reason and guiding us to get back to our beloved mountain.
October 2020-Present: The support from so many really touched us. It has shown us how big the hearts of our community is and it has taught us and our children what it is like to help and serve others. Such wonderful life lessons come from such a terrible situation. The most important thing is that we are all safe, healthy and together, and together we can do anything.
The work has begun and will continue. We are working on rebuilding. Rebuilding our home, our community, and our beloved forest. The life lessons that we have learned and that we are teaching our children, are going to be lessons that will shape who they will become. During this process we are looking for and celebrating the silver linings in it all. Some silver linings:
- My father in law, Wayne Gault, is designing our dream home
- As a mom, my heart is happy that our boys are old enough to help with the rebuilding process and they are still young enough to have many years to make memories in our new home
- We have some of our best friends helping build our new home
- Through this all, we are stronger; a stronger family and community.
- We are embracing the new adventure
- We are Mountain STRONG
“Keep your face towards the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.” – Walt Whitman