What It's Like To Be An Evacuee From Creek Fire

Sep 25, 2020
Originally published on September 26, 2020 6:51 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

So far, the Creek Fire, the biggest single fire ever to burn in the state of California, is only 36% contained. Still, some residents are now allowed to return home as long as they have a quick evacuation plan because the fire is still unpredictable.

BRITTA DYER: At any moment, we could have been in threat of having an ember drop on somebody's home. So living in communities with just one or two ways out, your opportunity to leave, not knowing where it might rain next - rain fire, that is - is a concern.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Britta Dyer has already had to evacuate twice from her community of Cascadel outside Fresno. Right now, she's hunkered down at a nearby Airbnb. Dyer's husband is a firefighter, who is still working to contain the flames. She said he grew up there, in the mountains, so the work is taking a physical and emotional toll.

DYER: So he's been out patrolling this area that - you know, all of his childhood memories are on this forest. And we actually got married up in the high country, and it's all burning, right?

CORNISH: She returned on Friday to check on their house. It's fine. But others weren't as lucky. A few houses on her block burned. And Steve Gillett, who lives in the nearby community of Pineridge, says most of the homes in his area are gone, including his own. He built it himself over 40 years ago.

STEVE GILLETT: It had started a long ways away, and we didn't think it would get to us. So we left our homes pretty much intact thinking we were going to be coming back to our lives, you know? And this thing took off and came towards us.

PFEIFFER: Gillett's family actually saw images of their house burning before they returned, which was awful. But he said it ended up preparing them for the real thing.

GILLETT: We had cried a lot over the pictures. It was actually a good thing to see the pictures before we got there. We were ready for it. You know, there's nothing like coming to your house that's gone. It's a pretty emotional thing. I mean, when you look at the foundation, it's just dust. That's all that's left.

CORNISH: His son lost his home, too, and the business he'd bought, a general store called Cressman's, which Gillett called a staple in their mountain town.

GILLETT: It was founded in 1904. Everybody who goes to the mountains goes by Cressman's.

PFEIFFER: Gillett says everyone in the area is planning to rebuild - their houses, the surrounding forests, even the beloved general store.

GILLETT: It'll be the focal point of the rebuilding of the community. I think when people drive by and see that being rebuilt, it's going to make them feel good. It's going to make them feel like we're making progress and we're going towards something good.

CORNISH: But Britta Dyer in Cascadel says this is becoming their new normal on the West Coast, so she's not getting comfortable.

DYER: I always have our bags next to the door because it won't be the only call that we get.

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