Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Butte Fire -- We've Returned Home

Unlike having the giant plumes of smoke coming from up-country as in the picture above, last Saturday 9/19, the skies over Amador and Calaveras counties were blue and beautifully clear heading south on Highway 49 from Jackson. Yes, last Saturday our power came on and we returned home.

The great news for my wife and I is that because the Butte Fire's path made a horseshoe around our little community of Glencoe, we feel absolutely blessed that our home was spared. It was a feeling of happiness that I was almost ashamed to enjoy because others were not so fortunate.

Once home, we looked at how close the fire came to our home before turning to on getting our refrigerators and freezers cleaned of spoiled meat and food stuff. The power was off for 10 days. Everything was spoiled and needed to be thrown away. It truly breaks my heart to throw food away, but frankly we are very blessed compared to others who lost everything.

As for how we handled it?  Well I can say that my training in the Marine Corps sure comes in handy during times of crisis. As for my wife, while she had her moments here and there, she is a strong woman who knows the power of prayer and thinking positive. Yes, she is a Champ!

And frankly, even though the Butte Fire is our first time dealing with a forest fire -- all in all, I think we handled it well. That's not to say we didn't have days filled with worry and anxiety interrupted by moments of sadness. The sadness came when hearing the news that a friend's home had been burnt to the ground and all of their belongings were lost, or when hearing that friends homes had been looted within hours of the fire starting.

For years, like others, I've seen people on television talk about evacuating. But frankly, I've never asked "what happens now?" I've never asked where do they go, and what do they do if they have jobs or indeed lost everything?

In our case, we left when we were told and went to Ione to stay at my Mom's home. She is 81 years of age and has seen her share of trying times and hardship. From growing up during the Great Depression to being in Hawaii and watching the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to raising six children and having all of the worry that comes with being a Mom.

Yes, my Mom is the greatest. She immediately asked if others needed a place to stay? Yes, that old fashion sense of reaching out to others in need is my Mom's generation. And during this disaster, I would find out that the younger generation has a handle on things more than I gave them credit for.

Family stayed with family, friends stayed with friends, some stayed in their cars and trucks for the first few nights. Yes, hotels and motels were filled and one was lucky to find a room. And thankfully here in our area no one raised rates to take advantage of the emergency, during the Valley Fire up North a hotel did just that and was caught doing it.

While one friend was fired from his job because he missed too many days of work during the fire, and there were stories floating around about bad people doing bad things like looting homes, stealing horses, and even stealing cars, on the overall the good outweighed the bad.

The Jackson Rancheria Casino & Hotel stepped up in a very huge way. And frankly, while some said it was just a PR (public relations) thing on the part of the tribe, I will never accept that. I simply don't believe it.

They took in evacuees, gave them 3 meals a day, rooms, and had all of the emergency services there at the Jackson Rancheria Casino & Hotel to help them put in claims.

I have no idea of the numbers of evacuees that they took it, but I can assure you that they took in as many as their hotel could hold. Yes, during this emergency, the hotel portion was shutdown to guest and was only available to evacuees. That's not PR, that's called family. I thank God they are part of our family. They are absolutely outstanding people.

In my other post The Butte Fire and Bobbi Laughton, I talked about the Laughton Ranch and the spirit of doing good that seemed to be in great abundance there. The wonderful work, the tireless effort to save horses. Yes, if there is any one person that Amador County should recognize for doing greatly in the face of adversity, that person should be Bobbi Laughton.

Kirk and Dianne Bennett, Dianna DeWees, and Kat Stiltz came out from the Laughton Ranch and rescued our horses on Friday 9/11. On Sunday morning, I had a moment of elation when we got a call from the Laughton Ranch telling us that they were going to pick up our horses and bring them home.

The same team that came in and caught them on the night of Friday 9/11 with the fire ragging nearby, now brought our horses back on Sunday after everything settled down. They made our day as special as can be. This crew is known as Princess Team #28 and again it is one of those situations where there simply aren't enough words to thank them.

They are special in so many ways, and their goodness shines through. They all came together to do good for others, and in some cases even came close to getting arrested doing it. They rescued our horses and many many others for many other families. All I can say is that they are simply wonderful folks.

Some of the unsung heroes are those who work for Calaveras County Water District (CCWD)

From putting out advisories on water purification to letting people know where water filling points are located, and yes to keeping essential pumps in service and available to get the water to Firefighters, the CCWD proved to be a very essential part of fighting this fire.

They got the water to the Firefighters so they have the wet stuff to put on the hot stuff. Without the CCWD, there would be no water at fire-hydrants to fight this monster of a fire. Without them putting family aside and working in extremely hard conditions, the fighting of this fire would be almost impossible.

We should salute the great work of the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department for maintaining order in an extremely tough situation in an area that is over 1,500 miles big. A mammoth task in normal conditions, but even more so in an emergency.

The Calaveras County Sheriff's Department never loss sight of the bigger picture of providing law enforcement to the entire county while fire areas needed their immediate attention. These officers are our neighbors and friends. Yes, we truly thank them.

And yes, while recognizing great works, we should praise the many PG&E crews who were hard at work around the clock replacing well over 800 downed power-poles.

While these things gave me moments of inspiration and admiration, there were definitely times of frustration during this disaster. And yes, most of the frustration was due to rumors.

During the Butte Fire, after my wife and I evacuated, we watched television and  listened to the radio trying to get any news that we could. We wanted to find out what was happening at home? Did our home burn down? Did our community get hit hard? How far is the fire spreading? How much progress is being made to stop it? Are they opening the roads and letting us and our neighbors back in? Is the power back on? For most folks in our area, the power back on means that our Well Pumps are working. And in our case, that means our horses will have water.

While the major television networks sent their anchors from New York City to stand by some smoldering pile of ash that was someone's home for the perfect television shot, the best place for information hands down was KVGC 1340 AM out of Jackson.

It was indeed the station to get the best and most accurate Amador and Calaveras County news and fire updates, along with the latest weather. They did just a great job for our communities.

Major frustration was caused by all of the Facebook pages that spread all sorts of rumors about the mass destruction and complete ruination of our community -- all not true. And yes, one report on a Facebook page actually had our community of Glencoe, population 189, "gone"! Yes, it said Glencoe was "completely wiped out."

Another Facebook page said that our home and a neighbor's home was burnt to the ground. And yes, our American Legion Post and Post Office were both ashes. Rumors also had our horses running up State Route 26 and people running for their lives with only the clothes on their backs because the fire was so near.

I found it interesting that one rumor stated that the Glencoe Post Office and Service Station next door both burned down. This must have been the same reliable source that said our horses were running up State Route 26, because friends --  Glenoce doesn't have a Service Station at all, nevertheless one by our Post Office.

Were there rumors that turned out to be true? Yes, but very few. For example, while all of the rumors about Glencoe being engulfed in flames and "gone" were not true, there were some looters in the Butte Fire. The good news is that some did not get away and were caught.

So now, now that comes to the end of this story.

On Saturday, after seeing that our place was indeed OK other than the stench of smoke and spoiled food in two refrigerators and our freezer, we went over to our American Legion Post to check on it. When we arrived, a Cal Fire Strike Team from Tulare was there checking out the inside of our post.

Immediately I started telling them about the pictures of some of the great people we have here, the old and the young. And yes, those who have passed. I tried to relate the sacrifice of those in the service in the pictures to their own sacrifice.

I have a respect and admiration for First Responders. It is a respect that was taught to me when I was a youngster, and it has been with me all my life. And frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.

The Cal Fire crew from Tulare, like the Firefighters from other towns and cities and counties, all face fires that threaten others hundreds of miles away. They face time away from their families to come to places like Glencoe to save us as only they know how.

One of the Firefighters from Tulare is Capt. Matthew Guerrero. He is a perfect example of a man who has been doing this for a long time and knows the rewards involved with giving back to others. He has been fighting fires for Cal Fire for 28 years.

His Christian values won't let him stop even though like the others he faces a great deal of time away from his family. When I told Capt. Guerrero that I wanted to mention him in my blog, he said that I shouldn't because he is "not special" and "that he is just like any of the others."

We talked about family and how much his wife and children mean to him, how proud he is of them, how much he loves his wife. And while missing them all, he especially misses his wife. He showed my wife and me a few pictures of his wonderful family and some of the things they do together. From Christian worship services to hunting to farming together, they live a life built on a strong foundation of love and respect and God's word.

While Capt. Guerrero might not think he is special, I do. He is very special. He is a good man. He is as good as they come. And if you ask me if he is more special than the others on his crew? My answer is no. But, like others on his crew, he is certainly special. To me, they are all very special because of what they do and who they are.

Yesterday, Monday, our American Legion Post put on a Free Spaghetti Feed for our community and the Firefighters who are still here. Our hope was that we could get a hot meal out to those, like my wife and I, who had to throw away all of their food from their refrigerators and freezers. And yes, of course, it was a way of trying to say "thanks" to the Firefighters. They are inspirational.

After making sure that everything was in great hands and folks were coming in, my wife and I had to leave. We both felt pretty good about the feeling of closeness in the community.

As we were driving to town, we got down the road a ways when the horrible sight of blackened earth and ash came into view. We both feel silent seeing the homes burnt to the ground. Along with the homes, there were trucks and cars and RVs here and there that didn't make it.

There was a home not much more than a pile of ash. There was a man picking through it. I suspect that he was looking for something to salvage. Before we had driven completely out of sight, I watched him sit down and put his hands to his face. He dropped his head, and I believe it was his time to cry.

My wife and I truly thank God for sparing our home, as well as sparing the rest of our community.

May God Bless those who have lost so much. May God give them strength to rebuild.

Tom Correa


  1. Great write up Tom! I am a fan of your blog, thank you for the work you put into it. My wife and I were just starting to rebuild our long standing family ranch in the area where the the fire originated. We only had an old trailer house and shed but our place was completely devastated (not a single tree left) and ALL of our neighbors have lost their homes. It is a truly devastating reality we all must face. But we've been a part of this community in one way or another since I was 10-years-old and it really is "California's Heartland" with great people and businesses. We can't wait for the Clark Family Farm & Ranch to rise from the ashes. Thank you. R.A. Clark.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. It is good to know that your family made it out safe. My prayers are with your family and those who lost everything. And yes, I believe that the Clark Family Farm & Ranch will be back even better than before. God Bless you and yours.

  2. Great story so sorry for all the loss, but glad to see the good things too.

  3. You really make me wanna cry, Tom. But in a good way. When I read this article, I think of the quote from "The Magnificent Seven" remake that Sam says to Goodnight. "What we lose in the fire we shall find in the ashes". Very true, Sam. Very true. Glad you're doing okay. Your pal, Benny.


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