The tiny Sierra community of Big Creek, which is home to Southern California Edison employees, lost many homes in the Creek Fire on Saturday, said Chris Donnelly, chief of the Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department.
Donnelly’s description of the devastation there was confirmed by Toby Wait, a Big Creek resident who is the principal and superintendent of Big Creek Elementary School.
“About half the private homes in town burned down,” Wait said. “Words cannot even begin to describe the devastation of this community. And it is a very close-knit community.”
An elementary school, church, library, historic general store, and a major hydroelectric plant were spared in the community of about 200 residents, Wait told the Fresno Bee.
Wait contradicted a previous report that the school was lost in the fire. He said that the school’s eaves caught fire but were extinguished.
In a text message to GV Wire℠ reporter Nancy Price on Sunday, Wait wrote: “School standing.”
But the school and general store still stand, fortunately. pic.twitter.com/8rxoJsAKeK
— Dennis Valera (@dennisreports) September 7, 2020
In a fire department update sent Sunday morning to Huntington Lake cabin owners, Donnelly said that recently retired Big Creek Fire Chief LaDonna Crane and Big Creek Fire Chief Bryan Toll, “along with several members of the department heroically fought towering flames into the evening yesterday to try to save the town and give residents time to escape.”
‘Furious Flames Ran up the Canyons on Both Sides of Big Creek’
Describing the Creek Fire’s explosive expansion Saturday, Donnelly said that “furious flames ran up the canyons on both sides of Big Creek and according to Chief Crane, all of the homes on Point Road are gone, as is the school. In addition, several homes in the ‘company town’ also burned.”
Donnelly said that the Big Creek Fire Department was ordered to evacuate the community at 8 p.m. Saturday, leaving only strike teams to battle the blaze.
“At 10 p.m. the town lost water and it was restored by two brave firefighters, who re-entered the town and established a water supply from the penstocks,” Donnelly said.
Five Cabins Burned at Huntington Lake on Saturday Night
Donnelly said that sheriff’s deputies raced to Big Creek at about 6 a.m. Saturday to tell residents to evacuate.
He also said that smoke and turbulence hampered aerial efforts to contain the fire.
Donnelly is a Catholic monk who has volunteered at the department during the summers for 22 years. He told the Visalia-Times Delta that he hadn’t seen anything like what he witnessed Saturday.
“It was like midnight out there and lightning and thunder coming out of the smoke cloud that the fire created,” Donnelly said. “Scary, yeah, we were doing lookout. Scary’s the right word.”
According to Donnelly, five Huntington Lake cabins had burned as of Sunday morning.