On June 23, 2016, a wildfire started in Lake Isabella and basically raced on the wind from there to Kelso Valley over the following days. The fire moved so quickly, that many residents of Squirrel Valley and South Lake did not even know there was a fire until the flames were upon them. The high winds allowed the fire to launch flaming embers upon cresting ridge lines of mountains and hills.
The fire affected everyone. The hardest hit neighborhoods were in the community of South Lake. This was a close-knit retirement type community with seniors living in mobile homes surrounded by nicely decorated little fenced yards. I was asked to take photos of a girl's grandfather's house. As I did this and the other photos, tears frequently filled my eyes. The vast destruction is not what brought on the tears. What brought the tears was the surviving signs of happy lives now swept away: The pair of lawn art deer smiling at me, the basketball resting against a fence, a garden hose ready to fight the fire, a metal cactus standing tall, and American flags placed there by residents after the fire.
These photos are not for sale. For anyone who lived there or had family living in the area, I will give either the print or possibly an image file.
The story of this community needs to be told. The governor asked for the President's help in declaring a federal disaster. Some of these people had very little to start with, and now their homes are lost. Some had no insurance. I am hoping that these photos can bring home the devastation to anyone who has not been over to the area.
Although South Lake was hit the hardest, almost everyone in the valley suffered in some way either personally or in worrying about all of their friends in the area or by trying to help the victims. Businesses in the area were closed for at least a week. They lost revenue and their employees lost wages. Power and water were off for about a week. Everyone whose power was out lost all their food. Stores and restaurants in the area lost all their food and had disinfecting to do. Water was said to have bacteria, so this had to be boiled prior to use once the wells were back up and running. Hot spots kept popping back up, and those had to be extinguished often by the residents of the closest houses. Ash remained everywhere. Even now, every time the wind blows, it smells like another fire is starting. Many people have stories of running from the fire, fighting the fire, or helping people or animals escape from the fire.
South Lake, a busy and happy community, now stretches up the hill as charred ruins. Scattered areas of Squirrel Valley show charred chimneys surrounded by rubble. Mt. Mesa lost a home, and Kelso Valley lost homes.
Keywords:Creek, Erskine, Fire, Lake, South
© Copyright by Corri Gryting Gutzman, 2011. All Rights Reserved, US and International.