California Creek Fire Zero Percent Contained, Chief Firefighter Says
The People Fighting California's wildfires include our next guest chief. Chris Donnelly is spent twenty two years as a volunteer firefighter in Huntington Lake California. Good, morning sir. Good. Morning Steve. How are you this morning I'm okay. We've reported a lot on the sheer extent of the fires. How have you been spending your days where you are? Well we we began this this fight probably on Saturday morning about six am and what we did I was get all of our people out of Huntington Lake. Huntington has about probably five hundred and fifty summer cabins in an additional hundred and ten. Condominiums, we had thousands of people at Huntington and Once I had is on the fire, very clear to me that he was going to burn into Huntington and lives were at stake. So we spent most of the time getting people out. Well, I'm glad you've been able to do that. But of course, because of course, we have been following stories of some other resort areas, vacation areas where. There for the summer there for vacation there camping have had to be evacuated emergency ways. you said you got is on the fire can you describe the landscape the way it looks to somebody who's never been there and what the fire looked like. Yeah. Honey. Lake is quite unique word seven thousand feet, and we are the reservoir for a very large electric generation facility. That's two thousand feet below us. Virtually down a steep just just a cliff. and. So when I heard a sheriff's deputies go through our area to begin evacuations about five thirty in the morning on Saturday. I called our dispatch and and and they told me where the fire was. I drove down there about fifteen to twenty minutes away. And look down into the Canyon to about a thousand feet below us and saw flames and new as soon as the morning wins started upslope of Valley. That that was going to be a threat to Huntington. So I recommended that we do a mandatory evacuation at Huntington and began that vacuum evacuation about seven thirty. Our our teams, we we knew this was coming eventually with so much deadened down and the droughts over the years. And temperatures have been drier and well, it's been hotter and humidity's dryer. So said so much deadened down is this mostly forested area that we're talking about This heavy forest. Read for in white for as much as eight feet in diameter. And Bark Beetle infestations probably killed a third of that forest and Ecorse was. Caused by not not too much water much hotter temperatures in the last ten or fifteen years. and. So we have a lot of lot of fuel out there in the forest. You you focused a lot clearly on the evacuation is everybody out safely so far as you know from your area of responsibility. Absolutely. We made several passes through our small community. And we verified that everyone was gone, and then at that point, we had lots of strike teams which are groups of fire engines each. Totaling about thirty five engines by about two PM. At which time is started releasing our personnel to get their families and get out. So right now, the the only members of our fire department, our one company officer, which we will keep their throughout the battle. But it's simply not safe to be there. Well this helps to explain number that we've been hearing the past couple of days we're told this fire is zero percent contained. Is this a circumstance and of course, it's true of all wildfires to some extent circumstance where it's abundantly clear that the massive -ness of dead vegetation that you've described that the extreme dryness means that you really this is something that is beyond human control. At this point I think that's a that's a good statement. I don't know what the future of Huntington Lake is. But at this point to it does not look good. Has. The fire actually reached the the what had been the settled area of Huntington Lake. Yes. We have loss cabins of on the western end of the lake. All communications are down into the area I am not there at this moment. So it's very difficult to get serious information but about six PM last night, all crews were pulled out to about the middle of the lake. And we don't know if they re engaged or not. You said, all crews have been pulled out to the middle of the lake. Do you mean that they went out on the water? No. Okay this is copulated on the north side of the lake, and so a mid mid way on the shore you retreat retreated to a more defensible place is what you're saying. Thank you for much much better said, yes, Gotcha Gotcha I want people to know if they don't that you are as you describe it a brother in the Catholic church maybe a layman would think of you as a monk that is another thing that you do besides volunteer firefighting for twenty two years. How does that inform the way that you think about an event like this? Well you know I'm a teacher at Saint Mary's College and I've worked with kids since probably nineteen seventy. So it for me, it's all about caring people and touching hearts and. It's it's that center of people that I worry about the most you can rebuild cabins and you can go somewhere else but it's the people. So you know just a a little. Thirty second bit for you. Yesterday morning, I drove by a cabin and made a PA announcement directly to people about you need to get out now. Yesterday I called her and told her cabin was gone. And she shared with me that are great. Grandfather that cabin in one, thousand, nine, hundred, twenty. And her grandmother talked about the moments out playing in the woods and collecting pine cones and. As she broke into tears. I. Thought. How many stories like this am I going to be hearing? And how hurtful this all is. Income on their summer cabins, they gotTA someplace to go, but it's the hurt and the loss and. Tens of thousands of girl and boy scouts that. Were at Huntington. And Church camps and private Anson. There's so many lives. So many memories that probably won't be there in the future. So for me, that's what it's about. It's about the people. And all the all the loss. Donnelly thanks very much for your insights. I really appreciate it and we'll continue following the news to see if you begin to reach a point where you're able to battle back. Well, we'll look for that moment to. Chris Donald is chief of the Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department, one of many areas in California facing massive wildfires.