In 1922, Barbara and Owen Flynn from Strathmore, California, found a little mountain enclave called Camp Nelson. Following the example of their friends, Tom and Alice Ferguson, they leased a bit of National Forest land and built a cabin near the South Fork of the Middle Fork of the Tule River.
Two by four studs and pine boards provided a little shelter and a deck. Their hands, and sixteen penny nails held the tiny structure together.
It still stands, altered a bit but maintaining its rustic style. It is still used by the descendants of ‘Cese’ and ‘Dada’ Flynn.
In August of 2020, over 12,000 lightening strikes were reported in the High Sierras east and north of Camp Nelson. The Castle Fire was one of the largest of the fires ignited from those strikes. It started many miles and several high ridges from the confines of Camp Nelson.
Then an east wind began to blow and the Castle Fire joined with other fires born of that lightening storm. Together they became the Sequoia Complex fire.
Thousands of firefighters from all over the world worked to stall, contain, redirect and otherwise fight the beast that was growing in front of them. They wrapped the bases of Giant Sequoia trees in flame proof blankets. They flew helicopters and DC-10 planes through smoke and high winds to drop water and flame retardant on and in advance of the raging flames.
The wind did not stop. It did not slow down and the fire began to create its own weather as it roared through timber that had not burned in a 100 years. It swallowed pines that were already stressed from years of drought. It climbed the unclimbable to reach the top of the ridge that protected Camp Nelson.
It first sped down that hill wiping out the enclaves of Sequoia Crest and Alpine Village. Few homes in those areas survived. Fewer trees and no underbrush lived through that conflagration.
And Camp Nelson was only a few miles down that hill. It’s meadow, a large green expanse owned by the Nature Conservancy became the central base for firefighters, helicopters and other personnel. It was there that the helicopters returned for more fire retardant.
Then, to the east, the fire made another run through Cedar Slope. Again, few structures and fewer trees were spared.
Then the news came that firefighters were making a stand at Camp Nelson. Firefighters were on cabin decks removing and squelching flying embers from a fire that, in places, was less than 50 feet away.
We all watched for the daily fire command updates and hoped against hope that our cabin or anyone’s cabin had survived.
There were many people who stayed until the last minute before they evacuated and one of them, a dear friend of the family, removed the family picture albums and the oil painting of Cese. It is now family superstition that our section of Camp Nelson was saved by Cese because her portrait had been saved!
This weekend some in the family traveled by to the cabin for the first time since the fire. The following is what we saw:
The devastation was personal. It hurt to see the pines and cedars charred to nothingness. It hurt to see the work that had been done to remove dangerous, still smoldering trees. It hurt to see only foundations where homes and cabins had been.
We know that we were very, very lucky. We also know that the firefighters (and Cese) saved our place of peace- our Oasis in a Mars-scape.
This weekend we found a new solace in Tres Pinos.