We are sharing sections of a school report written by Forestene Hogue (early pioneer family) Beckham in 1943 for a Sierra High School assignment.
“The seventeenth day of July nineteen hundred and twenty-five will be a day long remembered by the people of Academy and its vicinity. It was the hottest day ever known of around here. The thermometer read 121 at six o’clock at night. At seven o’clock the storm hit with a terrific bang.
The first bolt of lightning struck the hill directly in front of our home. My sister, then nine years old, seeing the fire first jumped from her chair and yelled “Oh God, Dad, look at the fire”. One of the women ran to the schoolhouse and rang the school bell for about five minutes to attract the attention of the other neighbors.
By this time, unbeknown to my father, my mother took us kids to the neighbor’s houses. A different home than where he had told us to go. When we arrived there the wind started blowing with a terrible force. All of us kids were placed in a circle on the floor so we could not see what was going on outside.
The wind was so strong the men fighting the fires, by this time there was more than one, could not stand up so they laid flat on the ground with their wet sacks wrapped about their heads. The wind would pick them up and drop them again just as if they were a hot coal. It started raining and hailing but it did not faze the fires very much.
The hailstones were so large they almost knocked the men out. The women and children at the store decided they would be better off over at the house across the street. Just as they got inside the house a crash was heard and the store was laying flat on the ground. The women had to stand against the doors to keep them closed.
When the fire nearest our place was out the men started to the store to see if their families were still all right. Upon finding it down some of the men crawled through and could not find anyone.
Daddy had not been with us very long when some men came and told him the barn had blown down and that one of our horses which was in it was still alive. This barn was a two story one. In the upper story of the barn my father had thirty ton of baled hay.
The horses’ stalls were directly underneath the hay. In the stalls were a large black saddle horse called Neg, a white mule, Lib, and an old bay mare then thirteen years old by the name of Mabel.
When the barn fell the saddle horse’s neck and back were broken. As the men worked to get the bay mare out they could hear the mule struggling but they were unable to help her so she smothered to death. The mare’s life was spared because a rafter hit an oil drum and held the hay off her. She lived about five years after that dreadful experience.
One of the men who was at the fire lived about a mile from Academy. When he arrived home all the home he had was just one wall. The rest of the house was lying at the foot of a hill quite a distance away without a window pane or door glass broken. His oldest son was in the house and the wind picked the house up from around him and never hurt him a bit. The mother and rest of the children were in the yard but were not hurt.
The next morning it was discovered that the roof was missing off the church and the two big eucalyptus trees were up rooted and placed on top the parsonage.
The next morning when the people started to get breakfast no one had a stove pipe but us. All the close neighbors brought their breakfast to our place to cook….an old red rooster walked proudly into the house, jumped on the table and stepped in my mother’s cup of coffee.
While the men were out fighting fire the women and children gathered down at the store. The women patrolled the grounds to keep curious visitors out of things.
The children were allowed to keep all the candy and gum they could find. This was great fun for us kids and it kept our minds off of what we had been through the night before.”
The Academy church (founded 1868) and the school remain on Madsen Avenue.
Academy families continue to enrich our heritage.