Chat with the Chief: Creek Fire recovery 3 years later

There is now another fundraising project going on to build a new firehouse in Shaver Lake.

Vanessa Vasconcelos Image
Wednesday, October 11, 2023
Creek Fire: Recovery continues three years later
Three years ago Monday, the devastating Creek fire sparked near the Big Creek community.

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Three years ago Monday, the devastating Creek fire sparked near the Big Creek community.

The wildfire burned nearly 380,000 acres in Fresno and Madera counties.

Nearly a thousand structures were either damaged or destroyed by the flames.

The Creek Fire was one of five major wildfires burning across the state at the time.

As we mark three years, we look at the continued efforts to rebuild and the lessons learned.

Action News sat down with Shaver Lake Fire Chief Steve McQuillan, whose crews were battling the same flames that were destroying their homes.

"It's easy for me sometimes to forget the devastation because here in the immediate vicinity of Shaver, you look out our windows, and all you see is green. When we respond to a call at Huntington Lake, as soon as you get past Shaver Lake and start heading up into the high country, it's nothing but devastation. Any direction you look, trees gone, and really not much has grown back," explained McQuillan. "A lot of time has gone by since then. We have had to adjust our training a little bit in anticipation of what we might next experience. Of course, we are living on a knife's edge with the threat coming from the East. East of Shaver Lake, the fire did not get to, so we still have miles and miles and miles of green forest, which have still, unfortunately, a large number of dead trees as a result of bark beetle."

At the time, the Shaver Lake Volunteer Fire Department had 11 volunteers, six of whom were able to fight the fire.

"We had three of our members lose their homes, which took them out of the mix after their homes were lost. So, that brought us down to eight and then two of those were otherwise engaged with their own properties. So there were pretty much six of us that were here for the four weeks that our department was specifically tasked to respond to the Creek Fire, and that was pretty much 24/7, seven days a week."

McQuillan and the department kept fighting the blaze, knowing it was some of their own houses on the line.

"As I pulled out of my driveway that morning, I could see the glow of the fire to my right. It was, 'Will my house be here tonight?' I was certain it wouldn't be. I was convinced it wouldn't be. That was pretty emotional for me," recalled McQuillan. "A lot of people left after the Creek Fire. A lot of people were unable to rebuild their homes after the creek fire, and I think the impact has to be gauged on an individual basis."

What would McQuillan say are the lessons learned from the Creek Fire?

"We had always considered the threat of fire from the west and east to be our main threats as the bark beetle situation progressively got worse. So, we were always fearful and mindful of that, and that's what happened. The dead trees burned fast. That's a significant lesson. There's all sorts of discussion of where the fire was more significant than others. From our perspective, there was just a lot of dead brush and trees that were igniting like small bombs," said McQuillan. "I don't think there was any specific lesson learned. I would say the lessons were underscored. Remember that summer, there were five major forest fires when the creek started. Resources were very limited during those first two weeks. I remember that first week, I think we had 300 firefighters here. Fortunately, the state has become more aggressive, and there are a lot more aircrews. The state bought a lot more aircraft, and you're seeing it. The aircrews were very heavy in the initial attack. That was something that's developed since 2020, so we have a lot more resources. So, if there's a lesson learned since 2020, let's attack hard and fast."

Last week marked a big milestone at Shaver Lake Volunteer Fire Department as it held a push-in ceremony for its new engine.

They physically pushed the engine into its bay at the firehouse.

The rig was made possible thanks to Fresno County and the Central Valley Community Foundation.

The fundraising project took about three and a half years.

You may notice there was a little struggle getting the rig in its bay.

That's because the firehouse was built back in the 40s.

There is now another fundraising project going on to build a new firehouse.

They hope to have that done in the next five years.

You can go to the Shaver Lake Volunteer Fire Department's website to donate or plan ahead for the Fight Fire with Fire fundraiser on April 20th of next year.

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