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NC5 photographer hiking John Muir Trail when California Creek Fire broke out

Posted at 6:01 PM, Sep 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 21:23:35-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A NewsChannel5 photographer was on the mountainside when the Creek Fire broke out in California.

Chief Photographer Mike Rose was on a planned hiking trip of the 230 miles John Muir Trail when a fire broke out about 10 to 15 miles away from him.

The first signs he and his two cousins noticed off the fire was a giant white plume that looked like a cloud. Rose now knows it was a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, or a cloud formation caused by a large fire.

"This giant plume of smoke was just kind of billowing up into the sky. I thought it was a thunderhead. We had had clear weather up until that point," said Rose.

The hiking trip had been planned since March, and Rose said he and his companions each had to undergo a fire safety course.

After seeing the cloud and venturing further along the trail to a remote resort in the Vermillion Valley, Rose learned what was happening. A fire had broken out that had quickly grown and was spreading along the mountainside.

The trio decided to stay the night at the resort.

When they woke up the next morning, it was clear something was wrong.

"All the smoked had settled down in. The visibility when we woke up was like a quarter of a mile. It's smelled like hell. It was just awful," said Rose.

Dark red and brown smoke engulfed the entire valley. The group decided to cover some ground and try to leave the trail. They came upon a dam and a fisherman. That fisherman was Glen Roberts, who worked in search and rescue before retiring.

Rose and the group bummed a ride from Roberts, who took the only road out of the mountain to Fresno. It was a treacherous almost two-hour ride, at times moving near the Creek Fire.

"We never saw fire on the edge of the roads lapping at the car, but it was on the ridgeline. You could kind of see it just all along the ridges. The smoke was so thick. The road was so sketchy. You just felt like you were just driving into it," said Rose.

The group made it out okay.

Still, Rose can't help but wonder how someone could've let this happen. Campfires aren't even allowed in the area right now.

"There were no fires allowed and then when you hear someone was shooting off fireworks for a gender reveal party, you just kind of scratch your head. Why would you do that? Just pop a balloon. Don't shoot a firework," he said.

Rose learned that other hikers who had stayed at the resort were evacuated by the National Guard in Chinook helicopters.

He feels fortunate no one was hurt but feels bad for all of those still impacted by the fire.