1 Year Later: Cressman's General Store coming back to life after Creek Fire

Margot Kim Image
Thursday, September 2, 2021
1 Year Later: Cressman's coming back to life after Creek Fire
Big plans are in the works. Originally a house that was added on to over its 117-year history, Cressman's 2.0 will be modern and efficient.

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- "It still makes me sad because even if you didn't lose a home, a business, a cabin, you still lost a forest and I think that's what people who stop here and see everything, it's just changed."

Tara and Ty Gillett lost all four: their home, their business, their family cabin and the forest in the Creek Fire.

The historic wildfire threatened to chase them and many of their relatives and friends from their life-long mountain community for good, but then they had a profound change of heart.

Piece by piece, Cressman's General Store is coming back. First, the iconic sign. Then the gas pumps and the shipping container that serves as a makeshift market for now.

Big plans are in the works. Originally a house that was added on to over its 117-year history, Cressman's 2.0 will be modern and efficient.

RELATED: The iconic Cressman's General Store has reopened for Memorial Day weekend

"I would trade anything to go back to the old store in a flat second but the new store, it will be exciting to design it for this specific purpose," Ty said.

Using the same building footprint, the Gillett's plan to build a bigger kitchen to make more ready-to-go food and bakery goods, add a coffee shop and possibly even a kids play area.

All while supporting each other and their mountain neighbors through tough times, sprinkled with some humor.

"When I look at the burned trees, I just see work," Ty said. "We've cut down and processed so many of them."

Those burned trees are providing the lumber for the rebuild, so history will literally be in the walls of the new store that will serve residents and visitors of Shaver Lake for many more years.

In the heart of the mountain town, another kind of passion project is taking shape.

The Museum of the Sierra announced a large expansion earlier this month, which includes its Creek Fire exhibit. Executive Director Frank Johnson says the focus is on the past as a road map for the future.

"It's incumbent upon us to protect the forest, to make it safe for the people who live here and to tell the story," he said.

RELATED: 1 Year Later: Saving Camp Sierra during the Creek Fire

Those memories are being collected in the Storytellers Project, which invites Creek Fire survivors to share their heartbreak, loss, and joy in an online collective.

"We're all people connected by time and stories, and it'll just make it very real for the people in the future and hopefully along the way, inspire people," Johnson said.

The display also adds up the Creek Fire's astounding numbers.

"Over 3,700 men and women deployed to battle the fire, 50,000 people displaced, 856 structures ruined," Johnson said.

The warriors in the battle are still being honored in Shaver, with signs of appreciation for firefighters and first responders.

RELATED: 1 Year Later: Woman who lost cabin dedicated to son in Creek Fire aims to rebuild

Cressman's temporary store displays some signs of their own artwork from the heart and hands of the community, which continue to be donated or just mysteriously dropped off at the doorstep.

The Gillett's say this community is tough enough to get through anything together, but even the "mountain strong" need to a shoulder or two to lean on.

"Learn that it's okay to ask for help and our neighbors do the same for us," Tara said. "It's been a really great experience in that and teaching our children that."

For more information on the Resiliency Fund and Storytelling Project, visit their website.

VIDEO: Mountain Strong: Surviving the Creek Fire

The new documentary "Mountain Strong: Surviving the Creek Fire" is a comprehensive look at one of the state's most significant natural disasters and how a community is coming together to build from the ashes.