Protecting Shaver Lake a Year After the Creek Fire

female using chain saw, cutting trees laying across ground

Los Padres Corpsmember Anahi Aleman uses a chain saw to cut up downed trees into more manageable pieces as part of a fuel break and fire recovery project.

For many who live in and around Shaver Lake, this Labor Day Weekend a summer celebration may be the last thing on their minds. The Creek Fire tore through the community nearly a year ago to the day. Hundreds of homes lost, and thousands of acres of forest burned.

“I was working at one of the fire camps handing out waters and lunches to the firefighters,” said Levi McKenzie a Corpsmember in the California Conservation Corps.

That was then. Now Levi McKenzie and dozens of Corpsmembers are handing out hope to residents of Shaver Lake, in the form of protection from future wildfires. “I’m here. I want to help these people. I’m cutting down these trees, picking up logs and doing whatever I can do to prevent these fires from happening.”

Corpsmembers from the CCC Los Padres Center spent weeks working across this hillside creating a new fuel break to protect the town of Shaver Lake and help the forest recover. 

As part of the CCC’s Save Our Sierra program, Corpsmembers spent nearly two months removing dead and damaged trees along Southern California Edison power lines.

“There’s no shortage of trees to cut,” said Corpsmember Cyrus Issari. “On average, we cut down 1,200 trees every week as a crew. We’re trying to make fuel breaks and help with the forest recovery. You can already see an impact. If a fire came back through here it would surely be slowed down.”

The new fuel break is 100-feet wide in the area just west of Shaver Lake Point. While part of the area will be re-forested at a later date, the dead trees will no longer be of concern. Once felled by chain saws, the logs are piled for burning or chipping.

man standing on hillside with arm raised looking at tree out of sight

Corpsmember Cyrus Issari assesses a burned tree he is preparing to cut by checking for it’s lean and looking for hazards.

“Before, during, and after wildfire, the CCC is committed to improving the state’s forest resiliency,” said CCC Director Bruce Saito. “Just as important is the education our young adults get on these projects. They’re learning about what’s needed to reduce the threat of wildfire, how to protect our communities, and how to help the environment recover.”

The Save Our Sierra program provides Corpsmembers with hands-on, paid training in forestry skills and careers. Additionally, Corpsmembers can earn upwards of $8,000 in scholarships to further their education after their year in the program.

“I could never have imagined myself doing something like—using a chain saw—but I really like it,” said Corpsmember Jenny Oropeza. “I really like contributing to the health of the forest. It’s physically demanding and it’s a lot to learn, but also something that’s really meaningful to the people around here.”

pile of tree limbs and tree trucks in foreground, shaver lake in distance

Save Our Sierra Corpsmembers stack tree limbs and cut up tree trunks into piles for burning or chipping at a later date. In the distance a portion of Shaver Lake is visible as Corpsmembers work. 

The work of these Corpsmembers will help the area recover for years to come. It’s something these 18- to 25-year-olds are grateful to be apart of.

“Honestly, I’m glad I’m here doing something great,” McKenzie said. “You’re doing it for the environment and so people can live in their homes and not worry about a fire.”