FOURTH QUARTER, OCTOBER 2020 VOLUME 34, NUMBER 5
Newsletter By Dave McCracken General Manager
As most of you know, a lightning storm on September 8th, or the early morning of the 9th, sparked numerous wild fires, one in particular, called The Slater Fire, which turned into a very powerful monster and raced down Indian Creek, taking out everything in its path. The headwaters of Indian Creek start up near the Oregon border. Then the gold-rich creek winds itself down the mountain and meets with the Klamath River in our town of Happy Camp. Here we are a month later, and the fire is still only 72% contained.
It was the original gold prospectors that began down where the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean that gave Happy Camp its name because they found so much gold on Indian Creek. A lot of the gold still remains there today.
I am estimating that the length of Indian Creek, not counting its various branches, is about 30 miles. A lot of the upper portion of the creek has been rather inaccessible because of the thick underbrush (which might not be there anymore). New 49’er members have free access to Indian Creek starting upstream from the West Branch Campground (which is probably gone) and most or all of the portions of the creek that are not private property all the way down to the mouth where it reaches the Klamath River.
The creek eventually meets a beautiful valley which extends for several miles. There were some stunning horse ranches and homestead properties along this stretch, many or all which may now be gone. There are a number of Happy Camp families who have ties back to the original gold rush. Later generations of the very same families were present all through the extensive logging industry which supported as many as 5 operating mills, most which were still in operation when we started The New 49’ers in 1986. Some of those family homes have existed up Indian Creek for 150 years.
I cannot get an exact number yet; but am told that as many as 150 homes were lost to the fire with two people found dead so far.
Rather than repeat what I wrote to you several weeks ago, I will provide this link to the initial Action Alert that we sent out on the 9th of September. That was followed by a GoFundMe link on the 18th.
One might ask why it took 9 days after the fire started for us to send out a fund-raiser on behalf of our two administrative staff who lost their homes. The answer is that this juggernaut of a fire raced down Indian Creek with such force and speed with blistering heat that was generating thundering explosions. Dickey says there was so much noise from the crashing down of trees and homes, it felt like there was also an earthquake! The smoke was so thick that you could not see across the road. With so many local residents not knowing what to do, it took several days for second responders to set up places for people to go for safe support and shelter.
By “second responders,” I mean the US Forest Service fire-fighting teams, Cal Fire, the American First Cross, and so many more State and federal agencies to arrive on the scene from other places. Ours was not the only fire in California. That lightning storm also sparked other fires.
It was the Happy Camp Volunteer Fire Department, Karuk fire crews and local volunteers using heavy equipment that had the foresight to put up barriers and initiate back-burns that saved Happy Camp. These were the first responders. Local law enforcement and other volunteers, aware of the fire, went from house to house all the way down Indian Creek, and then all through the town of Happy Camp, warning people they had to evacuate.
This part of the Slater fire was stopped just on the edge of Happy Camp.
If it were not for our local first responders, all of Happy Camp might have burned to the ground.
Dickey does a good job down below explaining how shocking and horrendous the situation was once the community realized an angry monster was already upon the town.
Mostly thanks to Dickey, working closely with local law enforcement and other officials, it took several days to locate our office staff, our local members and close supporters and visiting members who had signed into our log book in the office (so we have the ability to reach out to them). In doing this, we discovered that everyone was safe, but two of our very loyal office girls had lost their homes to the fire.
Dickey chose to not evacuate. He said as the fire came close to Happy Camp, he could feel the searing heat of the fire. He was telling me today that it was the screeching noise and volcanic explosions, maybe large propane tanks exploding, that prompted him to put his dogs in the car and motor over to the other side of the river. From a vantage point over there, He watched the fire burn into the night. He says this was an angry mother earth on the level of typhoons, earthquakes and tornadoes.
When it became clear that we were not going to lose our building, and our staff had lost homes, I put out a request to our long subscriber list for anyone who was willing and able to create a GoFundMe link on the Internet. We simply cannot keep The New 49’ers functioning without our administrative staff. The number of details they take care of in our office are so many, it boggles the mind. I am very serious about this! In fact, they were working on the September billing on the 9th of September when an officer came into the building and ordered them to evacuate. Christina and Victoria took off immediately. They both had homes up Indian Creek.
Dickey and Teyaw delayed long enough to shut things down as best they could. The power was already out (when the power is out, you cannot remember all the things that were turned on). They locked up the building.
Teyaw’s home is down by the river, Dickey’s is in the middle of town, two blocks away from our building. He says that after closing up our building, he walked out front and the entire area from the grocery store to Highway 96, and all the upper Happy Camp parking lots, were full of people and vehicles and total confusion. Panic was everywhere. He said there was an enclosed horse trailer that was banging and smashing around like there was some kind of wild beast inside. The owner finally opened the doors and let his horses out.
Dickey says the horses were so upset that they were screaming wild noises that were like out of a horror movie.
Other horses were running around in the parking lots, adding to the confusion. Maybe the ranch owners just had to open the gates to their pastures and let them run for it. People did not know which way to go. Most were watching the overwhelming flames of the fire just on the edge of town. The magnitude of the force was absolutely shocking! Dickey says the whole nightmare was something that will haunt him for a long time to come.
In any event, I made it my personal mission to raise enough money to get our staff members back in comfortable homes once the emergency was over, so we could get back up into action as soon as the authorities would allow people back into town.
From the notice we put out to our long list of subscribers and members over the Internet 9th of September, I was immediately contacted by Paula and Curtis ‘Oro’. They are longtime, supportive New 49’er members who have had previous experience in setting up these GoFundMe sites. It took several days; because a lot of the information had to come from the girls who were being moved around in Yreka. I gather that all the hotels were full. The American Red Cross was setting up rooms for those in need. But they had to check out every day; go back to the Red Cross, and submit another application.
Whatever! It’s better than sleeping in a car!
Banking information was needed. Some back history on both girls was needed, images, etc. To my surprise, most of this was accomplished in short order by the girls and Paula, with Dickey overseeing the progress in Happy Camp where the smoke was so thick, he was having trouble breathing. I called Dickey several times to check on how he was doing. His voice sounded very odd. He explained that if he laid down on the floor and put his mouth right on the floor, he could get a better breath of air.
Dickey is very close to his dogs. I could hear them also breathing into the phone. What a guy!
The thing that delayed the GoFundMe site the longest was in capturing images of what was remaining of the girl’s homes. This proved difficult; because a substantial security force was now in place all over the Happy Camp area. I gather that during disasters like this, officials are charged with making sure there is no looting. They are also looking for the remains of those who did not survive. They were making sure it would be safe to allow residents back in. Indian Creek Road was barricaded shut!
It took a while, but Dickey finally got hold of Gabe Garrison. Gabe is a local Sheriff’s’ deputy who has always been cooperative and supportive of our program. I know of at least one local member who has gone way out in the wildlands with Gabe in search of Bigfoot. He is a cool guy that also takes his job seriously.
Dickey asked Gabe if he would please go up Indian Creek and get some images of the girl’s burned out homes.
Once we had those images, Paula activated the GoFundMe site, and I believe it was she and Curtis that put up the first contribution. Dickey put up the second. Then I added in my contribution. There was further delay; because once that first money was directed into the GoFundMe site, I wanted to be absolutely certain that our girls were going to be able to collect all of the money. What is it? ” Trust but verify!” I needed to be certain before I sent the link out to you guys. That took a few days.
As soon as Victoria confirmed they had access to the money, I sent out notice to our Internet subscriber list. The contributions started flowing in immediately.
It was really heart wrenching to watch how many supporters we have that are willing to reach into your pockets in our time of need.
Our girls have good jobs. But nearly everyone has costs that take up most or all of the money we make. This is true for nearly everyone; it is difficult to build up savings when you have children to take care of, a car to keep running, a home to keep comfortable during the summer and winter, telephone, electricity, insurance, and the list goes on and on. We all know how this is.
My realistic task was to raise enough money to get both our girls back into comfortable homes, and back to work. Paula came up with the goal of raising $20,000 to split between the girls. This sounded right with everyone who was on the program. So, we went for it!
This is to announce that in 3 weeks to the day, I was informed this morning that we brought in $16,455 through the GoFundMe site, and $3,600 in the mail. Every dollar went to the girls, who split it evenly. That adds up to $20, 055 on my calculator.
So, I am hereby announcing that this fund-raiser was a complete success!
I have asked Paula to de-activate the GoFundMe Site and am suggesting the fund-raiser is finished.
Both girls are now living comfortably in Happy Camp and back at their jobs. The September newsletter and billing went out late. It was mostly completed by Dickey while the girls were getting settled back into town and Teyaw was answering a thousand phone calls from our concerned supporters. This newsletter will go out a week earlier, and we will work our way back towards the beginning of the month, which is normal.
This is my personal heart-felt thank you to everyone who helped in our time of need. I love that we have so many friends and supporters out there. We are truly lucky!
Members have already begun prospecting and mining again along our extensive properties. New members are arriving and going out with some of our more experienced members. Our doors are back open between 9 AM and 2 PM, Monday through Friday. Our phone (530 493-2012) is being answered until about 4 PM. There is an answering service if nobody picks up.
All or most of the normal business establishments in Happy Camp have reopened and will be happy to greet visitors.
While it will take some time for our support team in Happy Camp to fully recover from this terrible experience, they are in good spirits and feeling lucky to belong to this magic collection of wonderful people we have gathered together that are associated with our gold prospecting association in one way or another. The girls will be fine.
The purpose of this newsletter is to put an end to the emergency for you guys.
We asked for help. You provided it. Thank you so very much! So now let’s get back to gold prospecting!
I will end this newsletter with short messages of thanks from Christina and Victoria, and some very meaningful expressions coming from Dickey who is only in the beginning of unwinding from two weeks of absolute hell on earth. When I heard Dickey coughing for air on the floor of his home, I encouraged him to go take some shelter in my office inside our building. By then, the power had been turned back on. There is an air conditioner. Certainly, the air quality would have been better in there.
We have a security system on the building that notifies me over the Internet every time the alarm is turned on or off, or is (god forbid) set off by a burglar or fire inside the building. So, I saw exactly when Dickey took me up on my suggestion. Then 45 minutes later, I saw that he departed the building. So, I called him back. His answer was that he just needed to catch his breath for a while. He felt like he needed to be out in the disaster zone in case there was anyone else that he could help. Dickey is a very special guy!
Before I close my own comments about this fire misadventure we have been through, I must acknowledge the extremely valuable work that Curtis ‘Oro’ & Paula Hutson contributed to the fund-raising effort. They are the ones who volunteered to set up the GoFunMe site. I’m certain that they invested a lot of effort to gather the necessary information in the middle of all that confusion. They set it up so that every single dollar that was contributed went directly to our girls.
Nobody knew how effective the site was going to be until I sent out the email with the link to our list of supporters.
When our fund-raising site had already taken in $6,755 within 4 hours of sending out my email, I knew we were going to meet our objective.
What a relief in my world! If you want to see the list of contributors, you can find it by clicking on the green “See all” link on the bottom-right side of the page.
Let me please wrap this up with a few messages from our staff:
From Christina: As we were driving into Happy Camp, I felt a Bone Crushing Sadness over the loss of not only my home but the home of my Best friend and Coworker Victoria. We were escorted to our house via police escort due to hazardous material all up and down Indian creek. I don’t know what I was hoping to find…Possibly any one of the 3 Dogs we lost to the fire. I had been shown the pictures but nothing compared to driving up our driveway…walking through what used to our front gate and staring in a daze at what is now the remnants of what used to be our Home. My knees buckled and I cried. There was nothing of value remaining! The hopeful beginnings of our young Family Dream were now Gone.
Now we are taking it day by day. Gathering much needed items such as blankets, clothing, and food. What we have to do is becoming clearer every day; and due to the very generous donations that we have received from who I call my “New 49er Family.” My Fiancé Brandon, my two Daughters and their new Puppy Bear and I are now living in a travel trailer. It is located on the property of some very dear friends of ours, right along the Klamath River.
My sincerest thank you to all of you. I am now able to go back to doing what I love here at the Office of The New 49ers. My Daughter Lileigh can go to her school and see her friends. Violet gets to be at her home away from home, playing with her new playmate Bear on the river without a care in the world… Without The New 49’ers, none of these things would be possible. You have given us not just a helping hand but hope of rebuilding what was lost and starting over here in Happy Camp where it all seemed to end, only to begin again. Thank you so much!
Sincerely, Christina Johnson
From Victoria: Please accept our sincere thank you to everyone for your donations to our GoFundMe, and also for your caring and thoughtful prayers.
The last few weeks have been very tough for us as we try to gain back some normalcy as a family. As everyone knows, we lost everything in the Slater fire. Your donations have eased the pain and stress for us financially at this time.
It is not easy for us to ask for help. If it were not for The New 49’ers and Paula & Curtis, not only would we not have done it, but we would not have had the emotional wherewithal to pull something together. This has been a mind-numbing experience.
Just know that even the smallest donation has helped us in such a big way. It’s not only about money. It’s the realization that there are so many of you out there who care about us!
We cannot thank everyone enough. Please keep us in your thoughts as we navigate through this difficult time. I hope to meet you when you visit our office, or when you call on the phone.
Thank you, Victoria & our entire McAbier family
From Dickey: It was 5 am on Sept 8 2020, just another normal morning for me. I was sitting in my cabin drinking coffee, looking at my dog Silvie on the couch, and Loki on the floor in front of me. They are Karelian Bear dogs, around 85 lbs., and a handful of energy. We love each other dearly. They are much more than dogs to me.
I finish my coffee, feed the dogs and chickens, and then see my neighbor in the street looking up towards Slater Butte. He says, “There’s a fire up there.” You can see the lookout from my house, and we could just make out a little column of smoke towards the lookout. I heard sirens and saw some fire trucks heading up Highway 96.
So, I am at the New 49er office a while later at 9 am. Our very capable office manager, Teyaw, has everything up and running, Christina is on the phone with a customer and I notice some commotion outside. As I open the door and look around, there is a strange feeling as I see cars going faster than normal. People are yelling back and forth in an excited fashion. I see them pointing towards the north.
So, I step out away from the building and see a massive column of smoke rising as high as I could see. Holy cow!
I tell the girls and we are now all standing in the parking lot looking at huge columns of massive black and gray smoke billowing high over the trees up Indian Creek and behind the 49er building. The power goes out as we are taking all this in. At that point we are told, “No one can go up Indian Creek,” and we now can see vehicles blocking the road.
Christina looks at me and says, “My dogs!” I see in her face the reality of what is happening and what they are about to lose. That is a moment in time I will never forget.
Christina gets information that her fiancé Brandon is helping his sister get out of her house as the fire is already upon them. It is an intense few minutes until Christina sees Brandon pull into the store parking lot. She runs to him then says to me, “I have to go get my kids.” (Lileigh at school, violet at sitters.) Christina gives me a hug, I say “love you” she says, ” love you too.” I don’t see her again for two weeks.
At 10 am, Victoria pulls in next to where I’m standing. I walk over to the passenger door. Her three kids are in the back. Her youngest, Lance, leans forward and says, “What about our cat and our chickens?” Victoria has both hands on the wheel intently looking in the direction of her home. Victoria looks at me and says she has got to go. I say “love you,” she says “love you too.” Again, a moment in time I will never forget. I don’t see her for two weeks.
I go back into the office. Teyaw and I are closing up when we are told that everyone must evacuate Happy Camp. As I say goodbye to Teyaw, she gives me a tight hug. I say “love you,” she says “love you too.” I don’t see her again for eight days.
As I’m going to my jeep, I see cars rapidly driving around much too fast for the circumstances. A truck pulling a large horse trailer pulls into the parking lot. The horses are noticeably agitated, sounding more like screams than normal horse sounds. People were loudly shouting directions and information back and forth. The, fire department was rolling out hoses, shouting directions to each other. Official-looking vehicles were going house to house telling everyone to evacuate.
As I’m going to my house, I get a call from my wife from our other home in Depoe Bay Oregon informing me that I can’t get there as they are in danger of being overrun by fire and they are evacuating Lincoln city. She tells me all routes there are closed.
It was just unbelievable that both of our homes, three hundred & sixty miles apart, were in danger of burning down at the same time!
I decided to stay in Happy Camp. My dogs don’t do well around other dogs, and I really had nowhere to go. I knew if I had to, I could cross the Klamath River and go up China Grade Road towards Yreka.
That night around 12:30 am, the house felt like it was vibrating. It was actually shaking like in a mild earthquake! I ran to the door and saw what seemed to be right close to me were flames as high as I could see. There were huge explosions from propane tanks with roaring jet sounds! It was like jets were dropping bombs; it was a complete war zone!!
I grabbed the dogs, drove to the other side of the river and went up China Grade. Looking at the scene from over there was equal to any pictures I have seen from when Mount Saint Helens blew its top. Huge flames lit up the night. There was just a dark spot where Happy camp was.
The next few days were bad with smoke. No wind and so thick you couldn’t see the road even in the daytime. My carbon monoxide alarm was going off in the house. I already took the battery out of the smoke alarm. I went to the 49rs office several times to catch my breath as the smoke wasn’t in there, yet. The next week was like being in an apocalyptic movie. No one allowed to go anywhere. Still, dead quiet, dark at mid-day, and no one around.
Fortunately, our cell phone service was still working. I kept in contact with the girls, and it was a big help to me when they would call to check on me. You really realize the value of close friends during times like that.
Fast forward to Sunday October 4th. Christina and Brandon lost three dogs in the fire. That was really hard on them, and especially their kids. So, they decided to get a seven-week-old German shepherd puppy. I volunteered to pick it up all the way over on the coast. The drive did me a lot of good. I was driving the three-hour trip home with this beautiful puppy in my lap, loving on me, thinking of the new normal in all our lives.
I’m very sad that the old normal is gone, maybe never to return.
But I have been able to witness the most awesome outpouring of human compassion anyone could ever hope for. I am really glad for that.
Now back in the office, things are getting caught up, again. Miners are coming in showing off the beautiful gold they are getting, and even some new people are coming in. Some didn’t even know we had a fire. Isn’t that something?
I’m feeling a little better, but it’s going to be a while before my sleep returns to normal.
This hopefully is the last of our wild ride on the fire monster as far as these newsletters are concerned. Let’s put this behind us and get back to prospecting!
Several groups of very experienced members have worked out two new ways of prospecting this season that I am eager to tell you guys about. I know of several who were/are recovering $100 in just a few hours of work. The gold nuggets are quite exciting. This is all happening in places all along our properties where we never thought to prospect before, both inside and out of the water.
On top of that, once all the smoke clears, we are going to want to go up and see if there is now better access to the upper portions of Indian Creek. The loss of ground vegetation will create a lot of erosion if we get some strong rain this winter (likely). That will replenish hot spots that we already know about.
So, we will move forward and try to find the new opportunities!
My best wishes to everyone,
Founder and General Manager of The New 49’ers
New 49’er Gold Prospecting Association
27 Davis Road P.O. Box 47, Happy Camp, California 96039 (530) 493-2012