Manton: Recovery After the Fire
● By Melissa Mendonca
A Time to Heal
By Melissa Mendonca
Photo courtesy of NRCS
Sue Young of Manton clearly remembers the moment she realized the time had come to evacuate the 80 acres of forest land she and her husband Gary called home when the 2012 Ponderosa fire grew near. “I could hear it coming and I could see it coming,” she says. Trees were exploding so loudly she thought they were propane tanks.
While she and Gary made it out safely, and their cat survived with just a few burnt paws, the two houses, two barns, two garages and acres of pine, cedar and oak trees the couple had grown to love were all destroyed by
the flames. In all, the fire claimed 27,676 acres of Tehama and Shasta counties, as well as 52 residences and 81 outbuildings, according to CAL FIRE reports.
“We lost everything,” says Young. “There wasn’t anything left standing. We were in a really bad place.”
The Manton property had been a longtime dream of the couple’s when they moved from Moraga in August 1981. “We had always said that we would retire and live in the mountains somewhere,” she adds.
Suddenly, the couple found themselves in a rented home in Red Bluff. While she says they made the best of it and even grew to enjoy being in walking distance of many amenities, “it’s a strange thing to be living in one place and then two or three days later to be someplace completely different. I would wonder where something was and then realize it was completely gone.”
Today, five years later, she marvels at how the community banded together to support each other. As she stands amongst 14,000 replanted trees that are about three feet tall now, she can see a glimmer of a restored future for the area.
“Everyone just came together,” she says, “They helped where they could. It was great. I think it brought the community closer.” The church was overrun with donations of clothes and food. People donated money to the Red Cross. Before she knew it, she had three Kitchen Aid mixers at her doorstep in Red Bluff to replace the beloved one she lost in the fire.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has just wrapped up its five-year fire recovery initiative in the area, and Young gives it accolades for the support it offered. “They were a huge help,” she says, “So easy to work with and so nice to work with.”
While the conservation service supported many property owners with tree restoration and much more, the Young property needed support for a particular problem. The 7½-acre manmade lake on the property, named Lake Christine for their daughter, needed spillway restoration. The original, in a perched position, was at high risk of collapse due to erosion and increased runoff. Natural Resource Conservation Service Civil Engineer John Tiedeman and others developed a plan to replace the spillway with a 100-foot-wide inlet weir, a grouted rock chute and an armored plunge pool. Rocks weighing up to a ton or more were quarried onsite for the construction.
The project was immense, and one Young can’t imagine doing on her own. The loss was particularly hard on her husband, Gary, who has suffered tremendous health issues and now needs the support of a full-time assisted living facility.
The lake had been a crown jewel of the property, attracting fly fishers from all over in search of rainbow and brown trout. Both Sue and Gary are avid fly fishers and worked with the Fly Shop in Redding to bring guests to the lake. She credits Melinda Graves of the conservation service with helping them assure its future as habitat for the fish.
Today, with the burned logs cleared and new trees planted, and safety of the spillway secured, Sue has moved into a smaller property in Manton and has put the larger property up for sale. Despite the hardships, she says, “I love Manton. I would hate to move out of it. All of my friends are here. I’ve lived here since 1981 so I know a lot of people.”
She is thoughtful about the experience of losing so much and yet experiencing the grace of support from friends, family, professionals and strangers. “It’s an amazing thing to go through, on many different levels,” she relates.
Despite the upheavals, she is optimistic about her own future as well as that of the property she and Gary invested so much love and work in. “The trees are about three feet tall now,” she says. “They’re doing good. It doesn’t look anything like it used to. But in 30 years it will.”