Soda Creek Store sits in the middle of the Mendocino National Forest. For a time I didn’t want to drive by the place because I didn’t want anyone there knowing that I was going in and out of the forest four times a week to take care of business. So I devised an alternative route, which meant taking highway 20 to Bear Creek, north on 162, cut west and come out on the backside of the forest. That means I’m driving an extra 8 hours to do 4 hours of work. Makes for a long day. I did that for a whole summer. At first, I was on my motorcycle. Then I bought a Dodge Prospector ¾ ton long bed, thinking that no one would recognize the vehicle and connect it to me.
Near the end of one long and very hot summer, when there big raid in the forest, I was at Lake Pillsbury and noticed smoke in the distance and a bunch of fire trucks roaring by. “What’s happening?” I ask. Someone at the Lake says, “A fire on Hull Mountain.” I say, “Oh, no, that’s my area.” I went to Ettawa Springs, stashed my truck, grabbed my bike and headed out, worried that the fire had burned my place. I get close to the smoke and a firefighter tells me, “Some grower got his truck stuck next to his garden and set the forest ablaze. The exhaust system on the truck did.
The firefighters wouldn’t let me go up to my place, but three days later I was able to get there. All of my plants had been pulled. That was the end of that season. Rule number one: you don’t drive your truck to your patch. You park a ways off and hike in. The grower who parked his truck next to his garden was arrested. He went to prison. Two years later, there was a really big grow across the canyon from me. It took ten machete guys eight hours to chop down the plants. The cops also raided my garden. They had me for toast with their coffee. One year you make it and another year you don’t.
Speaking of forest fires, let me tell you about Kurt Hamilton, a fucking moron who started 52 fires in 18 months and burned nearly 200 acres around Lake Pillsbury. Hamilton lived at Soda Creek Store because Nick, the owner, took pity on him as he does on all lost souls. My wife and I also took pity on Hamilton; we gave him our beat-up Datsun.
I came home one evening from the Lake County Fair Grounds where I was working, and my neighbor says, “Forest police were here.” Mike Nichols, the head of the forest service arson division out of Willows, left a card saying he wants to see me. I drive to Finley where my wife, Atsuko, is working at Angel’s, the best Mexican restaurant around. I have dinner and talk with Nichols. He says, “We don’t think you started any fires, but we’ve been watching you go in and out of the forest all summer.” I thought I was moving in and out secretly, but they were all over me. Nichols asks, “Do you have any idea who might be starting the fires?” I say, “Kurt Hamilton. He lives at Soda Creek Store.” Nichols asks, “Have you ever seen him start a fire?” I say, “No, but I have been around when fires start and Hamilton is always the first one on the scene. He drives a Datsun my wife and I gave him. “Fire, fire, fire,” he yells and stands around and look at the flames like he’s enjoying the scene. Nichols says, “You know, it’s sexual for a lot of these guys.” Turns out, Hamilton was using our old Datsun to drive for two-and-a-half hours from Soda Creek to Covelo to start fires there. He put a lot of effort into it.
Once, there was a fire at Soda Creek Store and Hamilton just stood there and watched it get bigger and bigger like he got off on it. It took eight people to put it out. All of Hamilton’s friends lived there. He jeopardized all of them with his crazy shit. Moreover, a car driven by a man who’d robbed a bank hit a firefighter from Colusa on the way to help us at Soda Creek. Killed him. That bank robber and homicidal driver went to prison.
When I asked Nichols, the guy from the forest police, if he was going to arrest Hamilton, he says, “No, we don’t have proof.” Then he says, “We’d like you to be our eyes and ears out here. We’d really appreciate it.” I say, “Will I be charged with assault if I beat the snot out of him before I turn him over to you?” Nichols did not comment. I became the eyes and ears of the forest police. Before long they arrested Hamilton, though not because of anything I did. He went to prison for 5 years. They should have locked him up for life. He was a menace to society and to the forest, too. You know, people buy a plot of land, build a cabin and hope to retire in peace and quiet. And then Hamilton burns down their homes and turns dreams to ashes.
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JOLENE SHANAHAN WRITES:
I'm unclear how this article was printed. It's false. I've been a resident of Lake Pillsbury almost 30 years. Kirk Hamilton isn't necessarily one of my favorite people. No houses were burned during the fires and he got more than 5 years in prison. And he always got in there and tried to put them out. He never stood and watched. It doesn't even comment about the government and FBI harassment of the Lake Pillsbury residents, going on properties without permission, following people, watching them skinny dip and writing statements about it. In the statement about how he's in jail right now is true. but the messed up thing is he wasn't even at the crime scene and everybody else who was there when it happened are all free. I know you're allowed to have your opinion but why go out of your way to bad mouth a person who's already hit rock bottom? And Joe Munson has done criminal activities in the past. He just didn’t get caught.