Posted by Editor: FDBobko
May 19, 2022           

Bill Johnston 
His Personal Story - Surviving the 2020 Santa Cruz Mountains Fire
Photos by Bill Johnston and DB
Member Bill Johnston vividly recounted his experiences from 2020 in the Santa Cruz mountains with his future wife, Austin, as they fought and survived the fire that was engulfing the entire area.  Austin’s place in Bonnie Doone is at the top of mountain with a spectacular view at 1100 feet on a ridge line on 20 acres. There are just a few other properties. It has lots of different kinds of vegetation. In 3 minutes from the house, you are walking through Redwood Groves.  It gets hot in summer with lots of sun; and in mid-August, temps can be over 100. On the night of the 16th there was a major lightning storm with 10,000 lighting strikes in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz mountains.  He remembers Austin at the window watching the lightning, but he went back to sleep.  The next morning, they heard there were some fires in the night in the area, so they decided to head to Montara for coolness.  So the night of 17th they drove up. On the way they saw the most incredible sight when they came to Wadel Creek beach from which you can see a hill from 2 miles. What they saw then looked like something out of the credits from Disney with the Matterhorn in background.  Actually it was a ring of fire coming up from the beach.  Gorgeous to look at, and at the time didn’t know it would impact them.
The next day listening to the news, they decided it might be better to go back to Bonnie Dune.  Her house was already packed up to get ready to go.  He had asked Austin what she saw as her priority to take. Her answer was a chain saw. which so connected for him because of his love of tools.  They got ready to go.  In the morning they got the call evacuate.
His oldest younger brother had set up a covid suite in Santa Cruz area, so they went there but after a couple days decided to go back in. Austin’s neighbor had a camera set up panning the area, so they could see her property - watching the glow in the distance, then closer, then embers. There is a house up about 100 yds. from hers.  They saw a truck pull up to the structure, but that’s all they could see. They figured at that point they were next.
CAL Fire had set up fire lines on Smith Grade.  Hers was within the fire line that would not be defended, so they went back to fight fire.  Austin’s daughter got supplies, gloves, masks, gator aid plus their chain saws.
A blockaid had been set up, but they were able to get through.  The Laguna Creek Fire Protect Brigade which was created on the spot and made up of 10 people who were neighbors were on her property.  They had managed to contain the fire at the house above that they had watched on the camera. However, 90% of the acreage around it burned, but the house only 10%.  
Bill then showed a short video of the smoke and fire including some of the pictures below.
Austin had firebreaks created before the fire and hoses and pumps that could be tied into a very large water tank.  It happened that Cal Fire had been there 30 minutes before they arrived back. They had poured water on the surrounding 75-80 tall trees where the fire was burning in the crowns. They had hooked up to her 5000 tank and knocked the fire in tops out.  At that point a w10-12 feet tall fire was coming up toward her house.  They started cutting brush and throwing into fire and small trees to lay it down and feeding the fire but keeping it low to the ground as a result   They spent day fighting the fire. That evening they were told to walk the break lines every 2 hours. The fire was smoldering everywhere.  There was soot in everyone’s lungs even with masks and pouring watering over themselves.  About 6 a.m. there was knock on door; and they were told that it didn’t look like the lines would hold, so they went back to his brother’s house for the next few days. 
The blockade was strengthened 3 days later when they went back, and they couldn’t get through. But Austin is a hiker and knows all the back routes.  So, she knew how to go on back roads including going up ½ mile on the railroad tracks and down into a farmer’s field on other side of blockade where they joined her neighbors. Everything was still smoldering. Fires broke out 6 hours later from smoldering trees, etc.  Fires had burned down into root system burning a big hole.
The Insurance company paid $750 per tree burned.  They had to show proof of every tree; so, they documented 94 trees, and the insurance company paid up.
Next 4 months they spent every day clearing out the area so if a fire came through it would keep it low to ground and not up in the trees.  Fortunately, the winds were calm. The winds during the fire were created by the fire itself.  That was very fortunate.
Right now it is 2 years post fire, and in the ravine large trees that were not redwoods did not survive.  Madrones are all dead but saplings are coming up now. Redwood 6-8 inch in diameter are dead, but some getting new little branches growing out of them. Pines, furs are all dead so it is pretty much all redwoods now with 100’s of spurs coming off the trunks of the smaller ones. There are vines covering things and fixing the nitrogen in the soil.  They’ve become major mushroom hunters. Watching for morels, but things are so dry none have shown up 
Bill is optimistic that this area will still be beautiful though changed and better somehow, but other areas not.   He thinks contained burns in the future would be important.
Q What about the rains – what happened?  One of his brothers, whose job is about erosion cause by water, consulted with them, and they haven’t seen any significant areas with erosion.    They collected a lot of brush, had a chipper and fed all the brush in and pumped them on the area especially any that might be potential for erosion.
During the entire time they had to evacuate from the property for a full month. They spent time in different areas both south and north of here and learned they could share a cot and that a month of couch surfing was a good quick way to see how their relationship would work. They are now married.
Club Meeting - May 19, 2022



President Joe called the meeting to order.  He is doing OK getting through his bout of Covid-19 and looking forward to testing negative


Guests - John Evans' guest is our former exchange student Louise Chillens.  It was great to see her! John invited everyone to come by their house to see her if they’d like.  She is leaving next Thursday.


Our 50th anniversary and alumni event is postponed due to the current virus situation.  It will be rescheduled.
Senior Hope home repairs day is coming up on June 4 . Contact Hope at Senior Coastsiders to sign up to help.
Relay for Life Update.  June 9th is our fundraiser and donations for the auction are needed. 
May 28 the District will put flags on Veterans graves.  Ginger, Heather, and Rhave signed up so far. After placing flags there will be a breakfast if you wish to attend. Joe has to let Steve Wright know ASAP.
John attended last night scholarship ship awards ceremonies at the High School. He mentioned that about 170K worth of scholarship money was given from many organizations and schools. We awarded 3 Interact officers $500 grants each plus special Interact stoles.










Personal Soapboxlaughcrying   

MitonePast relayed that Past DG Sue Rokaw’s husband died in bike accident.  They had moved to Mississippi and he had been taking blind people on sailing trips.  Very sad.

Calendar for May -  Joe gave a calendar update—which has since changed due to COVID issues, check your email. 

Pres. Joe's Weekly 'States of the Union' Quiz -  COLORADO

What is Denver the capitol known as?  The Mile High City and the exact spot where it is that elevation is the 13th step of State Capitol.   There are 57 14000 ft peaks (we have 14 in CA).   A goal for climbers is to climb all. One-third of all the land is owned by the US Gov - National Forests predominantly.

It is know as the Centenial State because the initial statehood celebration on July 4, 1876, was also the 100th birthday of the United States. It is the 8th largest state in land area.  Golden Colorado right outside of Denver is the home of Coors beer. The Colorado mountains are 6 times larger than Switzerland.  The Air Force Academy is in Colorado Springs as well as Pikes Peak. The highest tunnel (the Eisenhower Tunnel) is over 11000 feet high and was until recently the highest in the world.  Now there is a new higher one in Tibet.

The 10th Mountain Division trained in the CO mountains. Most of the soldiers excelled in moiuntain sports and many started the multiple ski resorts throughout the state.

Susan visited in the 70s 80’s and drove up Pikes Peak. She wished she'd had her Carmen Gia then and could have driven with top down. She encountered one of the many summer hail storms - the saying there is "If you don’t like the weather now, wait 20 minutes and it will change. She remembers watching the lightning and thunder.
Mitone's  story was about a Rotary Shelter box Ambassador who climbed all the peaks in one summer with a shelter box on her back.
John told about going to a wedding in Colorado Springs. They took the Cog Train up Pike’s Peak and found it   terrifying looking down from the very high altitudes. In Colorado Springs they took the bus to places and found that  all buses come to the downtown location every half hour.
John toured the Olympic training center there and they went to Air Force Academy to see the famous and very beautiful modern Cadet Chapel with it's glorious stained class spires rising again the mountains behind. They also  saw Bo Bobko in the Cadet Museum and Visitor's Center where there was a great tribute to him as the first graduate to become and Astronaut and fly in Space.
Dianne told about growing up in Denver and that the mountains were frequented by her family.  She has wonderful memories of cooking out beside a stream.  She and Bo and their children when they were young had two week-long back packing trips into the wilderness areas in different parts of Colorado and made a trip to ski every year.
Ralph went there many times and a particular trip from here was most fun. He took train from here with a sleeper car and especially enjoyed the journey through the mountains.
Warren drove there with his brother who had been accepted to AFA and went to the Academy. And most recently one of his daughters studied at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood CO.  He has visited the  Bill Cody museum. and relayed the story of the scandal about a brigade of soldiers from Cody WY bringing his body bag -  it never actually happened!
Dennis was supposed to live there and had been born there in Evergreen, but moved when he was very young.
Joe has taken AMTRAC through Glenwood Springs and stopped both coming and going for a day at the famous sulphur springs and pool.  He learned that Teddy Resevelt used to stay at Hotel. Colorado which looks across at the Colorado River and the hot sulphur springs.  In reference to Rosevelt's bear hunting the staff at the hotel made the original bear which became know as the "Teddy Bear" out of old upholstery fabric.