By Lorie Ham
This year’s Creek Fire near Shaver Lake, California has caused a lot of damage. As of November 23, the fire had burned 379,895 acres. One thing lost in this fire was one of the Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department’s fire stations. That fire department helped save many structures insured by Mennonite Insurance and we are very thankful to them for their assistance, and sorry for their loss.
Brother Christopher Donnelly has been the chief of that department for 16 years, and a volunteer with them for 22. According to Brother Donnelly, the Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1993. “We currently have 13 members, all save one are EMT’s, have graduated from a fire academy, and are fully certified both in wild land and structural firefighting. During the summer, we staff our first-out station 24/7 and average one 911 call per day. Most of our calls are for medical assistance–most years that’s about 87% of our total call volume.”
While few people actually live at Huntington Lake, summers are very busy. “Fresno County estimated [that during] one regatta weekend (when the sailboat competitions are held) 14,000 people were visiting Huntington in the two church camps, three scout camps, two private camps, the multiple forest service camp grounds and private cabins and condos,” says Brother Donnelly. The Mennonite Camp Keola is at the western most end of the lake.
The Huntington Lake Fire Department was very involved in fighting the Creek fire and was instrumental in helping to save camp Keola. Their fire pre-planning for Keola included control lines, burn-outs and back fires, all of which worked together to save the camp. “We put out many spot fires that blew over the control lines in and around Keola that could have burned down the camp. Although I am extremely proud of the work our firefighters did, it should be clear that we were part of a much larger effort involving many brave and hard working women and men.”
While most of the buildings at Huntington did not burn, according to Brother Donnelly, 74 cabins were completely destroyed. Some of the lost cabins have been in the same family for over 100 years and many didn’t have insurance so they will not be able to rebuild. “One young mother told me as I was helping her to load her car, after ordering her to evacuate, ‘my great grandfather built the cabin in 1913 and I can remember my grandmother telling me that one of her earliest memories was collecting pine cones around that cabin … I wonder if my grandchildren will be able to do that?’ Her cabin burned to the ground 12 hours later!”
The fire station’s own loss happened while they were fighting fires in other parts of the lake. Sadly, the buildings were not insured. “Our ‘first out’ fire station was completely destroyed. We had accommodations for three, a two-bay apparatus building, a shop and storage.”
While waiting for the fire station to be rebuilt, they have a second firehouse on the east end of the lake that has become their main response station for the time being. The need to replace the buildings is urgent so they can continue to provide 911 services to the community when people begin to return to the area in the spring. “We of course need everything that goes into a building; furniture, appliances, water heaters, forced air furnaces … on and on … but first I need a building!”
If you would like to help the station rebuild, you can donate on their website. If you have concerns about your own fire insurance, Mennonite Insurance is ready to answer any questions you might have 559-638-2327.