Firefighters save 9-year-old’s fort during Caldor Fire
Special to the Sierra Sun
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — When 9-year-old Carter Campbell started his summer, he felt a little discouraged. His mom and dad had recently purchased a cabin in the South Lake Tahoe area, and they were headed out to work on the property over the summer, sans any wifi.
So his mom, Jessie, suggested he build a fort. The young entrepreneur got to work, and soon he had not only built a fort with four walls and his own table, but had begun his own sharpened stick business. He even created his own sign, which said ‘Sharpened Sticks For Sale.’
Not too long into working on their property, the Campbell family was getting calls telling them it was time to evacuate their new home, along with Carter’s new fort, due to the approaching Caldor Fire.
“As we were helping some other people leave, Carter wanted to go get something out of his fort,” Jessie said. “So my mom went over there with him and wrote ‘evacuated’ and the time and date on his little sign.”
Jessie explained that after she and Carter had left, her husband had decided to stay longer in order to prepare the house for the flames headed straight towards them. When the city of Riverside Battalion Chief Scott Wilson found Jessie’s husband at the house on Sept 4, he assured Mr. Campbell that they would keep his home safe. While Jessie knew their cabin would still be there, she was worried as to what had happened to her son’s fort.
“He didn’t want to go back,” Jessie said. “He wouldn’t go look at it.”
After wandering around the property observing the footprint, hose draglines, and areas that had been cleared, Jessie found something she never thought she would see: Carter’s fort, with a hand line protecting the entire thing.
“I was laughing to myself because they put a hand line all the way around it,” Jessie said. “With fire that close to it, I was thinking, ‘This is kind of funny.’ It was full blown, the same way they’d done around our cabin.”
Additionally, Jessie found large logs inside the fort that hadn’t been there before, and two of the walls had been taken down in order to protect the entire structure. While inspecting the work done by the Riverside team, Jessie found a note, left by Chief Wilson, who had bought three of Carter’s sticks.
The note read: “Carter, I bought three of your sticks. I hope a dollar each was fair. Contact me for a cool video of helicopters dropping by your fort.”
The touching actions by the Riverside team gave the Campbell family happiness in a time that seemed rather dark for them.
“For so many, our entire lives burned up,” Jessie said. “Everywhere that I had called home and spent all of my time. And then we buy this place, and I said at one point, ‘I’m watching my past and my future burn.’”
So coming home to the saved fort not only lifted the spirits of Jessie, but her son Carter, who was excited to get right back to building.
“Something about having seen when Scott had made that contact with us, it just made things better, for whatever reason,” Jessie said. “This is something so happy and so positive, and we all had such a good laugh for so long. And it totally changed Carter’s perspective.”
Carter has had time to put the entire fort back together, while hanging about with a lot of his cool new friends. Many of the firefighters from the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District were able to come back during the cleanup process after the fire and help Carter as well, and even though Chief Wilson is in Riverside, he has kept in contact with the family.
During all of his rebuilding, Carter was able to sit down on his new log seats and really think about what the actions of the firefighters meant to him.
“It makes me feel a lot better,” said Carter. “I spent a lot of time building the fort.”
Now, Carter said he’s focusing on finishing restructuring his walls, and working on walking sticks to be sold during the snow season.
Jessie was also able to reflect on the experience, and realized that without the efforts of Chief Wilson and the other first responders, the family might not have come out of the situation with a glass-half-full mindset.
“It made everything instantly turn back to something positive for him and our family and our friends,” Jessie said. “Chief Wilson didn’t have to do that. It’s something so silly, but so amazing.”
Miranda Jacobson is a staff writer with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at mjacobson@tahoedailytribune.
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In 2019, Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue received a grant of $395,500 from the Truckee Tahoe Airport District to replace an old snowcat and hauler.