By Nick Baptista
While fire, smoke and road closures prevented Butte Fire evacuees from getting official word about their homes, a Valley Springs photographer was acting as the eyes and ears for many of them.
John Slot began covering the fire the evening of Sept. 9 with the prospect of selling his photos to the media, but as the fire grew and raged on for days, he turned from being a photographer to what he called “a compassionate neighbor.”
Slot, who is the official photographer for the Calaveras Consolidated Fire Protection District, spent the first night of the blaze photographing it as it crossed the Mokelumne River and entered Calaveras County. A few days later he was in the fire zone and posting his photos on Facebook, which drew a large audience, many of whom were evacuees seeking to know the fate of their properties.
Slot at first was reluctant to post photos of the hundreds of burnt out homes he was seeing in the fire zone, but the vast majority of those who fled during the fire insisted.
“The dynamics were changing daily,” Slot said. “By day two or three I could see they didn’t want a newsman, they wanted a friend and neighbor telling them the truth.”
One of those people was Tiffany DeAngelis, who lost her home on Ponderosa Way.
Slot retraced some of his steps Sunday, catching up with those whom he had contact with during the fire and seeing how they were doing and whether they needed help.
“Your pictures were incredible,” DeAngelis said. “Every day we were saying, ‘What’s John going to get today, what’s happening today.”
DeAngelis, her family and in-laws are staying in a trailer on their property. One of Slot’s memorable pictures shows a white cross that survived the fire only a few feet from the burnt out wreckage of the family home.
“At 2 a.m. we’d get on Facebook to see John’s photos,” said Melanie DeAngelis, Tiffany’s mother-in-law. “He had more information than the officials.”
Slot was getting 40 hits a second after posting his photos on the internet. He went from 260 to 2,200 friends on Facebook and now has 3,200 followers on his photo page.
The large-scale devastation had an impact on Slot.
“It was just ripping me up. I knew I had to continue. People needed to know. I helped a lot and some I never got a chance to do so.”
In one instance, Slot drove an Old Gulch Road resident who was having trouble getting through a road closure back to his home. The relief on Shawn Duerre’s face was incredible, Slot said about the experience.
The scene at Ponderosa Way had a profound impact on Slot. Many of the homes on this one-lane road were destroyed in the blaze.
“I had a struggle going down this road,” Slot said. “The devastation was so immense. I had to stop at one point with all the tears in my eyes.”In addition to putting people and houses together, he was brining people and people together. In one instance he was asked about an elderly man who had been missing for five days and the description matched someone Slot had just seen waiting in line at a road closure.
Slot’s commitment to the fire victims is continuing. With assistance of his wife Gale, Kate Garrahan and Kristyl Galli-Berg, they have put together a 2016 calendar with photos from the Butte Fire.
The calendar does not contain any photos of burned out homes.
“We wanted to do something tastefully yet be able to show the men and women who dedicated their time to fighting the fire,” he said.
The calendar is at the printer and should be ready for sale Saturday. The cost is $20 and will be available at The Valley Springs News office, 1906 Vista Del Lago Drive, Suite L. The online cost is $26 and includes shipping.
Half the proceeds will go to the Calaveras Community Foundation for distribution to fire victims and the other half will cover printing costs.
Slot is also preparing a non-fire version of the calendar featuring his beautiful landscape shots from throughout the year, most of which are taken locally. Half of those proceeds will also go toward fire relief.
In front of CVS/pharmacy - Valley Springs
In front of the Campbell’s Country - Valley Springs
In front of Mar-Val Market - Valley Springs
In front of Umpqua Bank, Highway 26, Valley Springs
In front of Good Friends Chinese Restaurant, State Route 12 and 26, Valley Springs
In front of the Dollar Plus Store, State Route 12, Valley Springs
In front of H & R Block, Highway 12, Valley Springs
Inside La Contenta Mini Mart, Valley Springs
Inside Common Grounds, The Terrace Plaza, Vista Del Lago Drive, Valley Springs
At the side of Valley Springs Chevron, off Highway 26, Valley Springs
Inside Zippy Mart, 506 E. Highway 12, Valley Springs
Inside 76 Mini-Mart - Highway 26, Valley Springs
In front of the Burson Market, Highway 12 and Burson Road
In front of the Sierra Energy station, 7998 E. Highway 12, Wallace
In front of the Calaveras County Government Center-San Andreas
Complimentary copies available from
DJ's Hair - 10-I Nove Way, Valley Springs
Zamora’s Auto Body, State Route 26 and Country View Drive