The Fish Fire One Year Later

What we witnessed that day, words alone cannot describe. Surreal would be close though. Ominous and hellish would be two more.

On June 20, 2016 we had a really bad wildfire in the foothill community where I live. It is now June 20, 2017 as I write this. It isn’t exactly the kind of anniversary I like to celebrate, so let’s just call this article a reminder that it was one year ago today when the Fish Fire started and destroyed Fish Canyon Falls in Duarte, California, and the beautiful trail leading to these falls.

The Fish Fire was one of two wildfires that started in the same area on June 20, 2016. The Reservoir Fire took neighboring Azusa Canyon by storm first. Then, less than an hour later, The Fish Fire became part of Duarte’s history. This pair of wildfires became more commonly known as the San Gabriel Complex Fire. Oddly enough, we were in the middle of an unusual heat wave when the fire started, just as we are today (it’s pushing 100 degrees). In this article are two photos. The first photo (below) is from one of the last hikes I did to Fish Canyon Falls. I took this photo at 6:09pm on May 18, 2016. Almost one month before the fire. The second photo (below that) is Fish Canyon Falls about two months after the fire. Note the landslide of dirt which almost consumes the lower pool where the falls once cascaded into.

Fish Canyon Falls about one month before the Fish Fire

Fish Canyon Falls about two months after the Fish Fire.

We had only moved into this area seven months ago, and neither of us had experienced what it was like to be at Ground Zero of a major wildfire. It was a very nightmarish experience to say the least. I was at work when the fire started, but I was receiving posts from neighbors via the Nextdoor app, who were commenting on the Reservoir Fire and also how a new fire sprung up in our own neighborhood. This was just before noon. I then started seeing photos of the fire. Shortly after that, I received a text from my girlfriend, telling me that I should probably come home. She was very worried about the situation at hand. I was very glad that I did.

This was the scene where reality hit me when I got home.

And this scene.

What we witnessed that day, words alone cannot describe. Surreal would be close though. Ominous and hellish would be two more. These kinds of feelings came over me when I rounded the corner to our home. Once I got home, and got a hold of my senses, I decided to grab my camera. It turned out to be a good choice. I had a first hand opportunity to document this disaster as it was unfolding. We walked through our neighborhood, talking with our other neighbors, and offering our help. My girlfriend also helped take control of one of the horses, a beautiful white Clydesdale, from the nearby stables which were evacuated and brought down to our street until the horse trailers arrived. Water-dropping helicopters flew over our homes that whole day and evening, and for the next four days as well. It was like a war zone.

These helicopters flew over our homes, one after another, for the next four days.

The street above us, where the fire started, was under mandatory evacuation. These homes were at the base of the mountains, and the fire was literally just outside their backyards. We were put on notice to evacuate if necessary, but we never had to do so. Miraculously, no homes or lives were lost to the Fish Fire. I thanked every firefighter and police officer I ran into during this ordeal. What these people do during a crisis like this is amazing to see in real life, as opposed to what the media shows us on television.

On Day Two, our superheroes finally had a chance to rest.

Most of our neighbors have been through horrendous ordeal before. In November 1980, a major wildfire swept through this area, and neighboring Bradbury. One person died and 49 homes were destroyed. That fire consumed 6,200 acres and caused $15 million in damages.

The evening of June 20, 2016 in our neighborhood.

To date, we do not have an official statement from the City of Duarte, nor fire officials, as to who or what caused this terrible fire. Sad isn’t it? Many rumors have flown around in the last year as to how it started. Most are speculation, while at least one other is from an unnamed source who confirmed that “the Fish Fire was intentionally started”. That’s as far as said source would go. So, to date, the cause of the Fish Fire remains a mystery.

The aftermath on Day Four, near the oldFish Canyon Falls trailhead. Note the horse stables were saved.

I miss my hikes on this trail. I would hike to the falls two, sometimes three nights a week after work. I felt lucky to be three quarters of a mile from one of the most popular waterfall hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains. I take solace in knowing that it will reopen (tentatively) on September 8, 2017. An odd day to reopen, actually. The falls will more than likely be dried up, and it will be very hot, with a lot of bugs. It will be interesting to see what the flora and fauna will be like on the trail later this year.

The good ol’ days.


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