Catastrophe in Concow

The damage from the firestorm is much greater than outsiders realize

The authors are members of Concow Phoenix Project, a volunteer organization raising funds for the sustainable recovery of Concow after the Lightning Complex Fire of 2008.

Last week we drove 15 miles along the eastrim of the Concow basin and down Concow Road, through the devastation of last month’s firestorm. The Lightning Complex Fire burned hot and fast July 7-9 and destroyed 202 homes and 59,440 acres, according to Butte County Deputy Administrative Officer Sang Kim. Many residents had just 10 minutes to evacuate. They are now the Concow diaspora, hundreds homeless.

“I just want to go home"—That’s what our neighbors and friends of 35 years say, but there is no home. The black-and-gray destruction is 99 percent complete over hundreds of acres. You can hear the pine beetles chewing in the scorched trees. As you walk, the powdery ash rises and rakes your throat. It will feel raw for days.

Concow Lake remains a startling blue, a glint of the former beauty of Konkow, “place where things grow well” or “garden place.” So named by native people, it was an easy place to live—water, game, fish and edible plants aplenty. Nights cooled off in the summer, and winters were mild. A blessed place.

We came to Concow 35 years ago because we loved the land and country living. We grew vegetables and planted fruit trees. Raccoons got into our henhouses, and June, the Goat Guru, warned us to guard our goats from the mountain lion. We learned fiddle tunes and missed a decade of TV playing them together. Over games of pinochle, old-timers passed on the lore of the place. We made cozy wooden houses and covered them with sugar-pine shakes that we split by hand. Our children were born in those houses. Those of us who moved away for love or work or to “grow up” have always thought we could go home again. At night now, when we lie down to rest, Concow is in our bones and blood—the smell of the creeks at high summer and the wind in the winter pines in us forever.

It is gone now. The cabins we built with our 25-year-old muscles are reduced to a few concrete blocks and charred beams. For those “lucky” enough to keep their houses, the outbuildings, tools, inventory and forest shade are ash.

The kindness of the community and strangers has been balm to our hearts. Thank you. The media have largely ignored the scope of this catastrophe, however, and for many “in town,” the losses are simply anecdotes. Rebuilding will require years. Please donate whatever you can to: Concow Phoenix Project through—click Annie B’s Donate Now, then select “Fire Funds"; and/or to the Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council Recovery Fund, P.O. Box 4153, Yankee Hill, CA 95965.