On Saturday, Sept. 24, Swedish Americans gathered for dinner to mark the close of the summer season at Sveadal, the beloved cultural heritage and recreation property in the Santa Cruz mountains. But within hours after everyone left for the season, a wildfire was spotted in the coastal mountain chain, threatening Sveadal and 300 local residents, and requiring the help of 2,104 firefighters from all over the state, six air tankers and 16 helicopters. It wasn’t contained for more than two weeks.
By October 12 the Loma Fire was declared 100 percent contained. But approaching rainstorms that drenched the area on the weekend of October 15-16 presented a new danger to the area: mudslides and erosion, creating silt that can threaten the watershed. This critical watershed feeds not merely residents in the canyon but also the reservoirs and water supplies of Santa Clara County’s Water District. Cal Fire had to attend to suppression repair to mitigate the firebreaks and downed timbers, and crews were scouting Uvas Creek for signs of dangerous runoff. Of course the trees and brush are adapted to this fiery habitat and will regrow somewhat rapidly.
This Loma Fire was the third largest wildfire here in 15 years. Containing the 4,474 acre fire had cost more than $17 million, not including the 12 homes and 17 other structures it destroyed and damaged. When it was finally contained, so was the Soberanes Fire on the other side of the mountain range in Monterey County that had begun on July 22 by an illegal and unattended campfire. The Soberanes Fire had consumed 132,127 acres within a 245-mile perimeter during its 83 days, the most expensive firefight in U.S. history at $235 million.

Lessons learned
During the following week we received reports from our skeletal ground crew, liaison and board. But on the weekend of October 8-9, the community gathered once again at Sveadal. Saturday had been scheduled long in advance as a work weekend to lay additional water pipe.
The lessons learned have not been lost on our young adults, who are now taking their place in maintaining this legacy for future generations. This was also the occasion for additional work crews to mop up ash from homes and other rental cabins. Since the electricity had been out for days, there was lots to clean up. The clubhouse’s walk-in refrigerator kept a crew busy scrubbing down the insides, while more tropical Swedes cleaned doors and scrubbed dishes.
Later in the day, the Sveadal Club held its regularly scheduled meeting back in the clubhouse. The fire and Sveadal’s survival were the main topics of the agenda, as were reports and appreciation for all the leaders and help who staffed the grounds. Of course there was tremendous appreciation for all the firefighters who had responded from everywhere in the state, from the south to the far north.
As members tried to think of ways in which the community could adequately thank the firefighters, former fireman, Sveadal fire marshall and cabin owner, Jim O’Connor, stepped forward. He explained that Cal Fire firefighters, along with trained prison crews, are gravely overworked and underpaid as they fight the increasing number, frequency and extent of fires throughout our drought-ridden state. They have futilely pleaded before the State Capitol for a pay raise; Jim suggested we petition our governor and state legislators for their pay increase, and that is what the whole community will do.
After these recent events, the younger board of Sveadal Governors and critical committee members are now thoroughly seasoned. The board made three critical decisions quickly: to select specific persons for specific roles — particularly an onsite crew and our community liaison; to immediately, continually and transparently inform all our Sveadal community of the facts from Cal Fire Command; and, to request others to stay out of Sveadal. The board will now assess our responses and create a more stringent fire prevention program for defensible space around cabins and common grounds as well as adequate and self-sustainable power generation and water supply.
Cabin owners, like homeowners, learned they must prepare for any disaster by creating a prioritized list of valuables with photographs, descriptions and values, not merely as an insurance list (stored onsite and elsewhere) but also for anyone to quickly save specific items in an emergency.
They also learned why it is necessary to have a 50-foot defensible space around all cabins — for their own safety and that of their neighbors. Every cabin will need to be assessed, perhaps annually.
If fire threatens again, the few authorized folks who remain onsite must have information of all buildings, water supplies, power generation and helicopter landing area. We have mapped the cabins and water storage, hydrants and system of 50,000 gallons in storage and 20,000 in the pool (luckily, though we offered it to them, fire fighters did not need our water this time), and power generation and additional pumps from the well or creek must be installed.
Eva Brolin Urdiales, who became Sveadal’s liaison with firefighting leaders, appreciated the critical role our primary winter residents play in Sveadal. And she appreciated that most of the Sveadal community obeyed the request to stay away. Firefighters are always worried about those who don’t evacuate because they might have to rescue them instead of paying full attention to fighting the fire. Eva was particularly impressed with the extent of local, regional, state and federal resources quickly and professionally assembled to manage fighting the fire.
The Command Center must manage not only the firefighters and the fire, but also inform the public and monitor social media. Cal Fire has dedicated professionals for communicating official information and monitoring the news reports, blogs and social media, in order to respond to uninformed individual reports and rumors.
As for the cause of this fire, that is still being investigated. Early on there was speculation that it might have been caused by an illicit meth lab or a pot plantation hidden in the wilderness — and indeed illicit marijuana farms were discovered after the fire and one worker was taken into custody.
In California, any person living at a specified address, and is registered to do so, can grow up to 99 plants of marijuana. Ironically, residents will soon vote on whether to allow recreational marijuana to be cultivated and sold in state as well as the medicinal marijuana allowed today. Then those who are growing marijuana will simply be transformed into respectable businessmen.
But that’s for another day. Today we are simply grateful to all those who saved Sveadal and to those who will carry forward this Swedish American legacy after almost a century of heritage and devotion.


By Ted Olsson, San Francisco
Photography: SAPL, Sveadal