The Canyon Zone Fire which marched relentlessly through the ranges overlooking the West Side left in its wake a desolate landscape of charred terrain and, in some cases, the blackened remains of cabins, outbuildings and fences.
The Canyon blaze, which started in the Del Puerto Canyon, is one of three zones comprising the SCU Lightning Complex blazes that were sparked by lightning storms Sunday morning, Aug. 16.
In the days that followed, large swaths of the coastal mountain range erupted into flames, fueled by dry vegetation, strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures.
Throughout the rolling hills, the remote cabins and ranches scattered across the ridges and within steep canyons were in the path of the flames.
Many cabins and homes were saved.
Others were consumed by the fire.
“This is just devastating to everybody up there,” said Rollie Azevedo, whose family owns a ranch in the upper reaches of Orestimba Creek. “There were cabins lost, livestock grazing lost, fences burned. It wasn’t hit and miss. It burned everything. There is no grass left at all.”
Azevedo’s cabin, built of concrete with a metal roof, survived the flames. The family did not know the fate of the cabin until driving up reaching the ranch after the fire had burned through.
“We were worried until we got there,” said Azevedo, noting that he had to remove numerous fallen trees from the roadways to reach the property.
The flames burned right up to the fire break around the cabin, he reported.
Azevedo said he knows of at least two other cabins in the area that burned.
His four horses survived but with the grass burned have nothing on which to graze. Azevedo said hay was taken up to the animals, and plans were being made to bring them out of the hills.
The vegetation will begin coming back with the rainy season, he said, but bringing the grazing land fully back will take two to three years.
And, he said, hundreds of miles of fence in the hills will have to be replaced.
Lower on the Orestimba Creek, the Freitas family cabin also survived.
Wink Freitas said he and his girlfriend spent most of last Tuesday night pumping water from the creek to wet down the property as the flames threatened.
“It passed the first time and we thought we were okay,” Freitas shared. “Then it back burned around 2 a.m., so we started up again until it moved on.”
He, too, reported other cabins lost in the area.
“We got lucky,” Freitas stated.
Others were looking out for friends and family.
Newman resident Casey Graham said he evacuated his 75-year-old mother from the remote San Antonio Valley at the farthest reaches of Del Puerto Canyon Road last Monday, Aug. 17.
By the time Graham returned to San Antonio Valley Monday evening, he shared, the fire was raging on both sides of the roadway.
“It was unbelievable, the amount that the fire had grown and moved,” Graham shared. “It was just ripping. We have had fires up here, but nothing like this. The fire was hot and raging, and there was no support up there.”
Graham said he saw a hand crew working while escorting his mother down Monday, and the same crew again when returning to San Antonio Valley that evening. He also saw a fire engine during one of his trips to the hills, Graham said, but did not see any air support in the area until Tuesday afternoon and no strike teams until Wednesday.
Graham and a brother-in-law worked around his mother’s property Tuesday to safeguard it as best they could, including hooking up a generator to be able to run the well for sprinklers.
He came home Tuesday night, only to get a 4 a.m. phone call Wednesday from a friend whose parents needed help protecting their San Antonio Valley home.
Graham said he helped that family make a successful stand against the wildfire to save their home, fighting the fire all the way around a ridge. A fire crew arrived, Graham related, and when the home was safe he took the strike team over to another rancher’s home that was next in the path of the flames.
“They showed up just in time,” he said of the strike team. “When they showed up, they did a great job.”
Graham then returned to his mother’s home as the fire approached.
Her home was saved.
“The wind was in our favor. It kind of horseshoed the fire around us,” Graham told Mattos Newspapers.
Graham remained in the hills through the remainder of the week keeping watch over the family home where he was raised.
Others were not as fortunate.
Graham said he watched two homes burn as the fire raged.
“There are a lot of houses, a lot of outbuildings that were damaged,” he commented.
A cabin owned by Anthony Parreira of Gustine and partners was also spared the flames.
The owners clear the area around the cabin every year of anything which might provide fuel for a fire, he said, and as the fire broke out earlier this week partners began bulldozing fire lines to direct the flames away.
Parreira said winds drove the fire past the cabin, located on the Orestimba Creek, southwest of Diablo Grande and adjacent to Henry Coe Park, Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
“If we had not cleared, it would have burned,” Parreira said. “We did everything we could. We’re one of the lucky ones.”
Parreira was among several who reported that no fire support was provided to the secluded regions.
“We always had firefighters at the (fires) in the past,” he said. “This year we had none.”
Bob Cornell’s cabin on the Orestimba Creek also survived, but a number of outbuildings did not.
Cornell said he had gotten word that the cabin had burned, but arrived the following day to find it still standing.
“We were really happy about that,” Cornell commented. “The only thing that saved us were the precautions that we took ahead of time.”
But at the same time, he said, two storage buildings, a generator building and a toilet facility were lost to the flames.
Cornell, too, said that “there was no help or support from Cal Fire whatsoever.”
The cabin on the Pometta ranch also survived, although some fencing and a tool shed did not.
Dan Pometta said that the family clears vegetation from around the cabin each year, and that when he learned of the fire which had started in Del Puerto Canyon he went up and wet down the buildings.
The last time a fire went through, he said, family members stayed at the cabin because they had Cal Fire crews for support.
That wasn’t the case with this fire, Pometta said, and after wetting down the property he departed.
Pometta said he was not optimistic that the wooden cabin had survived the fire but returned to the ranch Thursday to discover still standing.
“We were very surprised,” Pometta reflected. “We were lucky. Very lucky.”
Other ranches, though, fell to the fierce flames.
Linda Lucas said the deer camp that had been in her family (the Hollisters) for more than 75 years was lost to the fire.
“We lost it,” Lucas said Monday. “It’s all gone.”
The homestead was well over 120 years old, she added, and was rich in history and artifacts.
“It’s all just memories now,” Lucas said.