Slater Fire Evacuation – September 8, 2020
Meanwhile, community member’s were getting up. They were going to jobs, to school, to meetings. They had plans for the day. If they noticed the wind, like wind hit the branches on our majestic walnut tree, they didn’t know it was 30 to 50 mile an hour winds. They didn’t know the small fire that had been reported was growing amazingly and coming our way, Slater Fire!
Bill Munton, a Volunteer Happy Camp Fireman, called. He said he had to stand by in case fire up Luther Gulch needed him to go, ande couldn’t pick Dan.
But by 10 there were folks stopping on the streets, along Highway 96 and down Davis Road. It looked like they were gathering for a parade. They weren’t looking down the street. They were looking to the sky where a mounting cloud of heavy smoke billowed like a mountain in the beautiful blue sky.
Ann came up the road from the River Park and told me the wind was blowing dust around too much for a stroll in the park or to sit “social distanced” around a picnic table at the pavilion. No one else was there, we’d meet another day.
More were watching the sky by the Post Office. There was some nervousness but no one was running home to pack a bag as far as I knew.
Besides, the Karuk Tribe Senior Meals would be delivered to 150 homes for lunch soon. It might be shepherd’s pie, a favorite that had been missed the day before.
Even though we went home for lunch. There was no hurry to pack a bag or anything, after all we hadn’t gotten a warning call by telephone. Later we learned others had, and a long line formed at the Connor’s Cardlock, the only place in town to get gas. That call probably saved the lives of many Happy Campers.
First we knew about evacuation was much later. The electricity had gone off. Our son called from his home in Rancho Cordova asking for prayer for a friends aged father in Happy Camp who had been told to evacuate but wanted to stay and help fire fighters.
We called some who might need a ride out of town but got no answer. We decided to leave but there were photos and memory books to put in the car.
Even after we left, we remembered the prescription and went back to the post office. The streets were eerily empty of people.
Turning back to Davis road, fire engines were on the street. Workers ignored us as they laid hose up and down the street. Still we had no idea of the immediacy of the problem and even stopped by recently reopened Quigley Station where we enjoyed a strawberry cheese cake before driving in to Yreka.
Arriving in Yreka we learned I-5 going north was closed due to fire in Ashland. Even Highway 97 was closed so there was no way to proceed north. Our son called and said there were no rooms to be found in Yreka, but he found a room for us at SisQ Inn in Weed. Two nights seemed extravagant when we probably could have stayed home as there were so many fires; on the Salmon River and elsewhere. But then we learned that many of our neighbors were worried about their homes.
Not knowing what a catastrophic event was happening we were cozy there, right next to the office was a peaceful little garden where beautiful roses grew. We had an inkling from some reports but hoped it was isolated incidents. But eventually we learned the Red Cross was at the Karuk Housing Welless Center in Yreka and thought we should learn more. What was happening?
There we saw more of our friends and neighbors than had seem the whole first nine months of the year. We alternated tears a d grief at losses, worry about those we hadn’t heard from, and joy when we heard others were safe. It was difficult not to hug and tears were flowing. We wore our masks and had temperatures taken to enter the Wellness center. Sometimes it was hard to recognize friends with masks on and teary eyes.
Gradually we learned of friends who had escaped with ashes from the fire raining down on them. Some escaped with the clothes on their back, grabbing a pet or phone and fleeing for their lives. Children had been scooped up in the car without all the necessary supplies when to leave was the important thing.
We were showered with kindness. Red Cross had no rooms available but was planning to set up cots in the gym. Happy Camp Community Center received grants from Ford Foundation and one from United Way.
We’ve gone the gamut from grief to hope, to anxiety of not knowing what the future holds, like s roller coaster. Not knowing has been hard and many wish to fight those keeping the evacuated out with severely hazardous situations still on the ground.
While fire has often been all around us, the whole town being evacuated hasn’t occurred in Happy Camp. Seiad Valley has been evacuated four out of five years,now five out of six as they’re threatened by the Devil fire
I own the old gold rush community site of Redfern, here in the Black Hills of western South Dakota. My area was originally known as ‘Happy Camp’. It was named by gold seekers from California who discovered gold in California Gulch east of me. The hills, terrain, and trees are nearly identical to that around Happy Camp, CA. Therefore, I strongly identify and sympathize with the residents near Happy Camp, CA. There have been no forest fires in the Black Hills this summer but one could happen any time. We are currently under a ‘red flag’ warning situation with no outside burning.
A local power company recently constructed a high voltage electric transmission line across the Black Hills. It took a lot of legal maneuvering and encouragement to convince the Forest Service that they must have a very wide corridor vacant of trees so that no forest fires could start in the event that a tree should fall onto an electrical wire.
God Bless all of those folks in California affected by forest fires.