SHAVER LAKE, California (KSEE) – Six months after the Creek Fire ravaged the Shaver Lake community, residents are starting to rebuild – but some obstacles are standing in the way.
One of the biggest issues is tree removal. In order for residents to rebuild, all hazardous trees need to be removed. Architect Kyle Lee said many residents are clearing a majority of their property by themselves or through contractors because FEMA will only clear the 100-foot radius of the building that burned.
That means every week, homeowner Robert Diaz and his wife Charleen Chambers work at least four days cutting and removing trees and branches from their property.
“I mean there are good days, there are bad days,” said Diaz. “But there is always hope.”
The two have been working on the clean-up for months. They are currently living next to the lake in a trailer because Diaz says Fresno County will not let him put his trailer on his property until more trees are removed.
Diaz and Chambers lived in Madera up until eight weeks before the fire. The couple always dreamt of retiring up at Shaver Lake and when they spotted a small red cabin in the Pine Ridge Community they fell in love with the neighborhood.
“I met more people in the eight weeks here than I did in Madera,” said Diaz.
The couple gutted the entire home because it had not been lived in for several years and was not up to code for insurance purposes. Diaz said they were only two weeks away from finishing the improvements when word broke at the top of the mountain about a fire.
The two stayed as long as they could but when it was no longer safe, they grabbed their 6-year-old grandaughter and headed down the four lanes.
“It was so smokey you couldn’t see anything,” said Diaz.
Little did they know that the cabin would be a total loss.
“My whole cabin was maybe 24 inches tall,” said Diaz as he described seeing his property damage for the first time. “It all had melted to the ground. There was metal running off the sides of the hill. It was tough.”
The relentless fire destroyed over 850 structures, including a 2200 sq ft wood home off of Buckeye Lane.
Lee is currently working on a new design from the ground up for his boss.
“I mean it is going to be a challenge,” said Kyle Lee. “But a fun challenge for sure.”
The new design’s main focus is the breathtaking view.
“You’ll have a view of the lake, you will have a view of Bald Mountain,” said Lee. “And a view of the extending Sierra Nevadas.”
While Lee has a vision for the property, many on the mountain have a lot of obstacles to overcome before they will be back home. The price of lumber is up substantially, all hazardous trees need to be removed, and California building codes require solar panels and sprinklers to be installed.
“We didn’t choose to rebuild these cabins,” said Lee. “We lost these cabins by no fault of our own and we just have to rebuild what we had. And that is all that we want to do.”
Lee and others from the community started the non-profit Rebuild our Sierra to help. The Shaver Lake Visitors Bureau runs the organization to help residents come back stronger after the historic fire.
It has already distributed over $20,000 to residents in need, created a tiny home project some people can stay on their property during the rebuilding phase, and another program for residents to mill burnt trees for construction (the process of salvaging wood products from charred trees).
“It is a core group of people and I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished so far,” said Lee.
Even with all that help, there is still a lot of work to be done. It will most likely take years before homes will stand tall once again.
“I keep going because of faith,” said Diaz. “I will have weak days but I will never lose hope. We are going to make it beautiful again. Somehow, someway we are going to rebuild the home.”