Creek Fire

Museum of the Sierra Resiliency Fund

   

In the wake of the damage that last year’s Creek Fire brought to the Central Sierra, an effort is underway to keep the fire from claiming yet another casualty, that of memory. The Creek Fire Storytelling Project is a campaign by the Central Sierra Resiliency Fund to document and preserve the stories of the fire and the unique histories that predated it. To learn more, Valley Edition Host Kathleen Schock spoke with the fund’s councilmember Kristin Telles.

On this week’s Valley Edition: COVID-19 cases are soaring at Avenal State Prison, and inmates there say postponed visitations, rule changes, and constant bed moves are taking a psychological toll. 

Plus, honey bees have already been hit hard by disease, drought and development. Now, the Creek Fire has killed millions more. 

We also continue our election coverage, and delve into more propositions. 

Listen to those stories and more on the podcast above.

Courtesy of Vicki Blair

 

 

A cup of coffee in one hand, David Blair rolls up the garage door to his warehouse and points out a few remaining 55-gallon barrels filled with honey.  

“We send it off to Sue Bee as soon as we can. We don’t really store it here,” says the third generation beekeeper from Kerman.

Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio

This week, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office allowed some people whose homes were destroyed by the Creek Fire to see what’s left of their property in phases.

On Wednesday, those who live in the community of Alder Springs drove up to see the damage, including Dena and Jacob Villanueva. At the mandatory check-in at Foothill Elementary School, Red Cross Volunteers gave them a rake, shovel, sifter, and masks. 

Dena said she knew fire was always a possibility, but living in that community was irreplaceable.

On this week’s Valley Edition: We hear from one mom who’s helping her four kids with distance learning from their hotel room, all while dealing with the challenges of finding a real home. 

Plus, with elections around the corner, we take a look at some of the propositions before voters, the impact they could have on the state, and the consequences of voter turnout.

 

And we’ll hear from a Fresno Poet that won the American Book Award. 

Listen to those stories and more on the podcast above.

Courtesy of Albert Yurgal, James Sponsler

When James Sponsler and two close friends set out on a backpacking trip Friday night over Labor Day Weekend, they didn’t know the Creek Fire had started 30 miles away.

 

“Just about lunch time on Saturday was when we noticed the massive thunderhead,” says Sponsler. “Unbeknownst to us, this was the fire itself.”

On this week’s Valley Edition: Three hikers who were evacuated from the High Sierra by helicopter last week tell us what it was like to be stranded due to the Creek Fire. 

 

We also talk with wildfire experts about the importance of forest thinning and prescribed burning to prevent the massive outbreak of fires the West is now experiencing. 

 

Later, we’ll have our weekly COVID-19 update. 

Listen to those stories and more on the podcast above.

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

People across the San Joaquin Valley have been rallying to assist evacuees from the Creek Fire. For one family, the gift of a tent led to a change in outlook.

When Matthew Warner and his family were evacuated from their home in Tollhouse last week, they weren’t planning on camping, but they have three farm dogs that make finding a hotel room difficult.

 

Courtesy of Joel Preheim

 

Joel Preheim grew up the oldest of eight kids in the tiny town of Big Creek. His 87-year-old mother still lives in his childhood home across the street from his sister. Fortunately, both of their houses survived the Creek Fire, which destroyed many of the area’s homes. But Preheim wasn’t so lucky. He and his wife, Tammy, lost their house near Cressman’s General Store last Monday night. 

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

So far, the Red Cross has provided hotel rooms for 2,300 evacuees from the Creek Fire and counting. But because of so much demand, people may need to be prepared to stay out of county—and that can prove difficult for those with medical conditions.

When the evacuation order came down on Wednesday, Robert Alessandro wasn’t at his home in Tollhouse. He was at a Clovis clinic hooked up to a dialysis machine. The 62-year-old with end-stage renal disease receives the treatment every other day. “I’m pretty out of it” after treatment, he said. “It takes a lot out of you.”

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

With the devastation caused by the Creek Fire, the chairperson of Big Sandy Rancheria calls herself a messenger for her community. So far, most of the 170-member tribe have evacuated.

Elizabeth Kipp is the Auberry tribe’s chairperson. Since evacuating to Fresno, she’s made multiple trips back up Highway 168 to attend early morning logistics meetings with CalFire and sheriff’s deputies.

Madi Bolanos

Fresno County officials announced Thursday that the Clovis Rodeo grounds are at capacity and the rodeo is no longer taking in evacuated livestock. The Fresno Fairgrounds, however, is gearing up to receive more cattle and horses in the next few days.  

Stacy Rianda is the deputy manager at the Big Fresno Fair, but right now she’s in charge of feed donations and overseeing the barn set up. She said the facility is at 5% capacity, meaning they still have plenty of open stalls.

 

CalFire - Fresno County District Twitter

More than 30,000 people in Fresno County have had to leave their homes due to the Creek Fire. 

Sharon Souza is one of them. She left Tollhouse Tuesday morning, but spent the weekend deciding what items would stay and what would go. She says she tried to be practical rather than sentimental.  

“At some point, when I realized ‘I can’t take everything with me,’ I actually, one night, went around and took pictures of my pictures on the wall,” she says. “I took pictures of family favorite recipes, I did things like that.”

Courtesy of Lasallian District of San Francisco New Orleans

 

Sometimes, firefighters have to do things other than battling blazes, including delivering bad news. In one Fresno County mountain town, the fire chief is uniquely suited to doing just that.

Liz Weaver, 31, lives in lower Prather with her husband, sister and daughter. Their home is in an evacuation warning area, but that didn’t stop her from organizing a team of almost 50 people to assist with mandatory evacuations.   

“I started putting together a post and asking people who need help,” Weaver said. “And I just started compiling a list of everyone who was able to do what and who had room for what.” 

 

Fresno County Sheriff's Department

 

 

The California Air National Guard routinely helps with search and rescue missions, but the transport of hundreds of campers and hikers stranded in the High Sierra by the Creek Fire has been unparalleled even for seasoned crews. 

sierrausd.org / Sierra Unified School Distrcit Website

Sierra Unified School District in the Fresno County foothills is suspending online instruction for the week due to the Creek Fire burning in the Sierra National Forest. 

Superintendent Alan Harris estimates up to 75 percent of district staff and students are being evacuated or have already been displaced by the fire. 

“We need to get to safety, and get to security,” says Harris. “Once we do, then we’ll settle back into what’s happening with the learning.”

Kerry Klein / Valley Public Radio

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Creek Fire has grown to nearly 144,000 acres and is still completely uncontained. Evacuation orders have been issued for areas around Tollhouse and Prather up through the High Sierra regions around Mono Hot Springs, and evacuation warnings stretch as far north as Wawona and as far south as areas near Pine Flat Lake.

Courtesy of Tony Botti, Fresno County Sheriff's Office / Fresno County Sheriff's Office

UPDATE 12:23 p.m. 9/29/20

 

Containment is at 44% with 305,240 acres burned. 

 

The Following Evacuation Orders are Lifted in Fresno County:

Zone F1O: The south boundary extends to the end of properties located south of  Peterson Road. The west boundary begins at 37887 Peterson Road. The north and  east boundaries are the intersection of Peterson Road and James Mountain Road.