The Master Potter’s Fire Story

IMG_6315-x_sizejpgGregg Lindsley is the Master Potter behind the Six Sigma logo mugs. The photo shows Gregg at Six Sigma Ranch where he presented his pottery during Lake County Wine Adventure in May 2015. (By the way, we plan to partner again for the 2016 Wine Adventure).

Gregg’s home and studio are located on Cobb mountain, very close to the place where the devastating Valley Fire started on Saturday, September 12, 2015. Below is Gregg’s fire story as he wrote it down the following day.

Gregg’s Story

Well, I am evacuated.  What a fire!  Started at 1:30 and went quickly. I was throwing sauerkraut crocks on my potters’ wheel at the time. There was a very strong wind that day, with gusts up to 40 miles per hour. I heard helicopters and planes nearby, which is not unusual. Then I got a few phone calls saying that folks in Lakeport saw large amounts of smoke on Cobb. This was puzzling because over my house from the front porch was blue sky!  I kept looking for smoke, but it wasn’t heading my way. With all those trees, it was deceptive. What happened was that the wind blew the fire in a straight line in a narrow ‘V’ shape at an incredible speed from Bottle Rock Road toward Middletown, so I wasn’t seeing the smoke yet.

I went back to work, and at around 2:30 it became clear that something serious was going on. I heard more planes and explosions! I started packing. I took pictures of everything, loaded 200 finished Six Sigma mugs into the car (first!), and some personal items.  I had 90 Six Sigma mugs in my kiln, which was firing. I turned the kiln off at 3 pm, it still had a few hours to go, and PG&E turned off all power at 3:02. My neighbor had called from work, wondering if the roads were ok, and I said I thought they were. At 3:30 she called and said the road was blocked at Anderson Springs, and would I get her dogs? Of course. When I finally got the car packed and the neighbors’ dogs in the car, (with two dog bites, they were very unhappy to go), I got in the car and the battery was dead!! I called 9-1-1, and the dispatcher said a deputy would be on the way. There was no one on my street, because most of the homes are vacation homes, and those who did live here were not home. So I waited 30 minutes. Soon a helicopter was flying over my head and dumping water not 500 yards from me, so I called again.  I could see flames across the ridge by Gifford Springs.  The deputy came about 5 minutes later. He jumped started my car.

fire_300wideSo the dogs, mugs and all went down the hill toward Middletown to meet my neighbor at Hardester’s. The roads were already closed and I think I was just about the last one off.   When I was driving down the hill, the fire was right down to the other side of the road, not ten feet from me, and racing away from Cobb with HUGE flames.  I got down to Anderson Springs, and the road was blocked there. Cars lined both sides of the highway as people waited to see if they could get home after being out on a Saturday afternoon.  That was sad. I got to Middletown and reunited my neighbor with her dogs.

Then, as I stood with some other folks I know watching the hills and catching my breath, one of my friends said, “Look!”  As I did, I saw a wall of flame about 1/4-1/2 mile long jump up over the hills closest to Middletown.  I immediately took the road (Highway 29) that ran parallel to that line of fire to the house of my girlfriend, whom I had helped evacuate during the Rocky fire!  An hour and a half later, that wall of flame roared down upon Middletown and the gated community next door, and took the homes out but left the downtown businesses intact.

It took two weeks until they let us back on the mountain, due to repairing the roads and electrical lines. By this time, I had nine good indications that my house was ok, from eye witness reports, videos of the region, and even my postmaster in Middletown! I returned home to find that my cabin and studio were indeed, still intact. Unlike a lot of homes, our little group of 30 homes or so in Whispering Pines, a subdivision on Cobb, on the bottom third of the mountain itself, was spared, saved by a backfire started by the CDF. I had to replace my refrigerator as I could not get the mold smell out of the plastic walls, despite using everyone’s home remedies.

The mugs that made it...

The mugs that made it…

As to the Six Sigma mug order, here is what happened. The morning of the fire, I had started firing a load of 60 mugs in my potter friend’s kiln down the hill from me.  Another 60 mugs were in boxes on the table in the studio. After we were let back in to the area, I went that day to see what happened. What I found was that the firing controls and hinges for the kiln were melted as was everything  else there with the exception of a stone Buddha statue and a wrought iron bench made in Mexico in the late 1900’s, and that two of the peep hole plugs were missing.

The mugs in the first picture were in the kiln, having the decals fired on them, when the valley fire came and destroyed my friend’s home and studio.

... the mugs that didn't

… the mugs that didn’t

After taking off the lid by hand, I discovered that the mugs in the kiln survived, but were a bit overfired. I could tell this from the look of the glaze. The kiln was firing at the time, and had most likely reached its end temperature of 1400F degrees before the fire hit. The pressure of the fire in the house and studio popped two of the peep hole plugs out, letting heat in. The mugs themselves, originally fired to 2145F, went to about 2250F. The logo decals though, turned to dust after the slightest touch, having gone way past their intended temperature. The mugs shown in the second picture were in boxes on a table waiting to be fired the next day, and they were all broken due to extreme thermal shock.  All toll, I lost 120 mugs in the fire.

If the fire had waited two days, I would have had them all done 5 days early!   A ‘not now Cato’ moment if I ever heard of one!



Else Ahlmann

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