FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) — Nearly 380,000 acres burned in the Creek Fire, which began Sept. 4, 2020. Nearly a year later two Fresno State students Thursday are sharing their extraordinary tales of survival and how they helped to protect their community.
Reaves Forrest is a senior plant sciences major, and volunteer firefighter with the Shaver Lake Fire Department. He is a Kingsburg native and has spent his college career as a volunteer firefighter protecting the community in which his family has owned a cabin for generations.
“It hits you a little bit different when it’s burning through the community that you grew up in,” Forrest said.
Forrest was one of the first firefighters on scene in Camp Sierra when the Creek Fire had just scorched a few acres. For another month he would work tirelessly to protect the Shaver Lake area and learn what it means to be on the front lines of a truly historic wildfire.
“We learned a lot about how fire is changing,” Forrest said. “And how hot these fires are burning and the climate that is changing every single day.”
Riley Budd graduated from Fresno State earlier this year as a criminology major. He says he was backcountry hiking with two friends north of Florence Lake the day fire broke out.
“We ended up trying to escape the fire by running 16 or 17 miles down the mountain in just one day, but unfortunately we just missed the evacuation.”
The fire quickly closed down roads, so Budd and dozens of other hikers and campers took refuge at the Vermillion Valley Resort. It was four days of uncertainty until the National Guard was finally able to fly in with a helicopter and rescue Budd and over 100 other people trapped at the resort.
“I saw a great amount of compassion and caring and fortitude throughout everybody that we worked with up there,” Budd said. “Especially the civilians and VVR (Vermillion Valley Resort) employees there.”
Both Budd and Forrest will never forget the intensity of the fire but say they saw the best of humanity during those difficult days.
“We had to rebuild everything,” Forrest said. “And everybody is just trying to help people who’ve lost their homes.”