EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — A firefighter assigned to protect structures from the flames of the Caldor Fire unknowingly saved a cabin he grew up visiting.
“We spent a lot of time outside. It butts up to the Strawberry Creek, so I remember going down there as a child to the creek fishing, playing on the porch that looked down to the creek, sitting around the campfire, just spending time with family,” said firefighter Stephen Castanon.
Castanon with the Waterloo Morada Fire District was part of a task force crew responding to the Caldor Fire as it spread into the Tahoe area.
“Everything, everything is hot out there,” Castanon said. “Everything is dry. Live trees are burning like they’re dead trees.”
For nearly two weeks, his task force battled flames in rough terrain trying to protect properties, including one with special memories. The cabin, which is off the Highway 50 corridor, has been in his family for decades.
“The old days when my mom and dad were predominantly running it, Stephen’s grandpa, Tony, and other brothers and sisters and cousins and family members, it was a number one party place for them to all get together,” said Mark Castanon, who owns the cabin.
The cabin now belongs to Stephen Castanon’s cousin, Mark, who just a week ago did not know if the family property would survive the fire.
“As it grew and moved, just the sense of dread, really just dread came over me,” Mark Castanon said.
On Stephen Castanon’s final day at the fire, his crew was sent to help save several cabins, including his family’s — although he didn’t know that at the time.
“I felt it in my heart. After, after we put out the fire and I stood on the porch, it triggered some childhood memories, and I felt that that was the one. But I didn’t have actual confirmation until about 9 p.m. that night,” Stephen Castanon said.
It was then the significance of what his crew had done hit him.
“We weren’t even in that area the whole time and on our last day for whatever reason, call it fate, call it destiny, call it a miracle, I don’t know, they sent us to that area,” Stephen Castanon said. “Believe it was meant for me to be there that day.”
While grateful they were able to protect his family’s cabin, Stephen Castanon said their goal is to always save as many properties as they can.
“We do whatever we can to save everyone’s house, not just our own family members’ houses or personal houses that we have connections to,” Stephen Castanon said. “We try and help out in any capacity.”
Stephen Castanon sent a picture to his cousin before leaving the area, creating another cherished memory at the family cabin.
“It’s already been decided that photo is going to be printed out and framed. It will be inside the cabin the first time that we can do that,” Mark Castanon said.
“It’ll be a story that he tells his kids and, hopefully, his kids will tell their kids for years to come, which I thought was pretty cool,” Stephen Castanon said.