For The Madera Tribune
Kris Hamilton stands with some of the firefighters that she helped refresh during the Creek Fire.
When the Mission Fire tore through the mountains in 2017, Kris (Lile) Hamilton lost everything, including her house and pets. This time, with the Creek Fire headed to her backyard, Hamilton refused to leave and, in turn, worked to help the firemen battling the blaze.
“The fire was in the back yard,” she said. “I’m on a ridge so they did a back burn on my property to fight the fire in my backyard.”
Hamilton lost her house three years ago and didn’t want that helpless feeling again and decided not to evacuate, despite mandatory evacuation orders.
“We did not evacuate for a few reasons — it’s a new house, we have major clearance around the house, we weren’t home last time and lost everything, including our pets,” she said. “It seemed a lot more stressful to leave than to stay. Although, our car was packed and we would have gone if we felt endangered. We have a big generator that we put on the new house. We operated on generator for two weeks, which is a lot.”
However, while the firefighters were working on the fire, Hamilton didn’t just sit and watch. From her house in Cascadel Heights, which is above Cascadel Woods and overlooks Fresno, Madera and the Valley, she supplied first responders with refreshments and other amenities.
“We were supplying coffee and breakfast items every morning out of our supply,” she said. “We had lines for coffee at our house. We also opened our bathroom, which was used.”
She started posting pictures on social media of the fire crews and of them drinking coffee and her friends in Madera took notice.
“My friends down in the valley that I grew up with and went to school with in Madera that live in Madera took it upon themselves to fundraise and go shopping and bake,” Hamilton said. “They got an escort to my house and dropped off a packed Suburban. You couldn’t fit anything else in there. It had food supplies, drinks, soap, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. It turned us into a 7-Eleven. It was awesome.”
Hamilton was completely surprised by the donations. She was just doing what she thought was right and was thrown off when her friend, Kerry Purl-Smith drove up her driveway to drop off the supplies.
“It was a surprise for me,” Hamilton said. “We didn’t ask. We were just posting that while we were staying, it was nice to meet the fire crews. We talked to them over coffee every morning. Our friends decided they would like to help us with this. Kerry Purl-Smith of Purl’s Sheet Metal rallied Facebook friends, which were all local. She coordinated everything, packed her Suburban with her husband and drove it up here and helped unpacked it. We took half of the items to the Cascadel clubhouse so the firemen in two locations can have the snacks and access. It was awesome.
“We had everything from all kinds of breakfast foods, Gatorades, fruit juices, cookies, pastries, homemade muffins, store-bought muffins, nuts of every kind, granola bars, power bars, Monster energy drinks. We looked like a 7-Eleven. It was not something we asked for, at all. I grew up in Madera. We’ve all stayed in touch. It was a nice community thing. People came out of the woodwork to help.”
Hamilton said she saw something on Facebook a couple of days ahead of time, but really didn’t put two-and-two together until she saw Smith pull up to her driveway.
“I didn’t get wind of any specifics other than a friend was at Smart & Final shopping and another was in their fourth round of baking,” Hamilton said. “When they pulled up and opened the back of the Suburban, my husband had to go get the wheelbarrow to get stuff from Point A to Point B.
“Kerry said she was going to gather a few items people wanted to donate. That was all I heard. We were crazy busy with the fire activity. She said she was ready to bring it up. She had to arrange an escort because we are under mandatory evacuation so it was a little tricky getting up here. That happened with good connections. It made me really proud of our community.”
Hamilton feels proud to be from Madera and feels this is what makes Madera and Madera County such a great community.
“I live in North Fork and all of this came from the Valley,” she said. “It’s our Facebook network that came together. It’s been very rewarding. As the neighbors have come back into both of our neighborhoods, they have been paying it forward. The ball really started rolling. We did help a lot of the sheriff department and the first responders. This wasn’t 100 percent geared towards firemen. Our house was open to all the first responders.”
Since she has opened her home to the firemen, she says that her house has become legendary.
“We have been told that this has become legendary,” she said. “That’s fun. These guys are working hard. They are working 14-day shifts. They are always hungry. The hill behind my house is very steep. The back burn went on for miles along the mountain ridge. They are hiking and walking to burn a lot of calories. They would come, have a seat, when they could before their meetings. They sent someone up with a bag to grab granola bars to take them down while they still had hoses going. It just felt good to be able to help. We felt so grateful they are here saving things, but still very helpless. This was our way of helping the fire. Just being able to have the bathrooms open for them, they were appreciative. We made it work while we stayed. We had mandatory evacuations, but said no thank you. Them being able to wash their hands and face to get the smoke out of their eyes a couple of times a day are little things we can help with.”
At the beginning, Hamilton would go in her front yard and greet the fire fighters and tell them she is serving coffee and breakfast items and that her bathroom and outdoor sink was open for use.
“My house is at the end of a cul-de-sac,” she said. “The multitude of fire trucks would park at the end of my cul-de-sac. We’re at the far right side and there’s another on the far left side of the cul-de-sac. When they would park, we went out and told them we were the only one there. They stood in line outside my screen door for coffee. They were so polite. Some are from out of the area like San Diego, Monterey, the Bay Area. It’s been neat to meet them. One of the captains lost his own house in another fire in the last two weeks, but he’s up here fighting our fire.”
Hamilton isn’t the only Cascadel resident that helped during the fire. She said another in the Cascadel Woods neighborhood stayed and opened the water system for the fire fighters.
“They gave over 800,000 gallons of water to all the fire trucks up here. They were trucking the water up and down the hills. That was amazing. That’s neighbors networking and making it happen. It’s been very rewarding. As the neighbors have come back into both of our neighborhoods, they have been paying it forward. The ball really started rolling.”
For Hamilton, another joy has been getting the opportunity to talk to other people other than her neighbors during the COVID-19 quarantine and being able to do what she can to help out.
“The best thing about the past two weeks is being able to help and interact more normally,” she said. “Everybody just welcomed that. For us, it meant I wanted to be here as long as I could and be vigilant for my property and keep and eye out for my neighbors for spot fires. The fire fighters are tired. The little things we could do were nice treats.”