On Sept. 1, Steven Streufert nearly died in the fire that consumed his bookstore in Willow Creek.
Streufert — a type one diabetic — passed out shortly before the fire began, was awoken by the flames and made it to the front porch before losing consciousness again. The smoke was spotted by a California Highway Patrol officer, who dragged Streufert from the porch to safety, where he was then loaded onto an ambulance and taken to Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata.
“I was in a state of low blood sugar when they found me sitting on the front porch or unconscious on the front porch, with smoke billowing out the windows and flames encroaching,” Streufert said.
Bigfoot Books, with the triple whammy of online shopping, the pandemic and a decline in the local economy due to cannabis legalization, was no longer financially viable, and Streufert canceled his insurance for the books when the expense began to pile higher than what he was making.
Because Streufert had been living in the building — owned by the Willow Creek Community Services District — for roughly a month, several of his personal possessions were lost in the fire.
“I went back out there and salvaged some of the things, but it’s just a completely disturbing thing to see your whole life sort of in ruins, burned up, covered in ash and saturated in fireman’s hose water. Just totally destroyed,” Streufert said.
Streufert is now staying in Eureka, where a friend paid for two months for a room while he figures out what to do next.
“Somebody’s got this room for me for two months, just because they didn’t want me to be out on the streets homeless,” Streufert said.
However, Streufert said he’s received help from several people, especially those in the Bigfoot investigation community. Michael Wyman, a friend of Streufert’s living in Alameda, set up a GoFundMe — which can be found at https://bit.ly/3rwgEhr — to help him recover from the financial loss.
A Willow Creek resident since 2001, Streufert has been heavily involved in the local Bigfoot community, and played an integral role in the Bluff Creek Project, which identified the location of the original Bigfoot footage shot in 1967.
“Miraculously, there’s still stumps and logs, and the big old trees that are seen behind the film subject in the Patterson(-Gimlin) film,” Streufert said. “We documented all that and we gave the results of the survey to our friend, the scientist and geologist in Humboldt State who did some trigonometry, and he said that this is exactly the film site, mathematically proven, compared to old photographs of it.”
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Streufert himself is a Bigfoot skeptic — he was briefly absorbed by the topic as a child and rediscovered the passion after moving to Willow Creek, a hotbed of Bigfoot enthusiasm — though he remains open to the possibility the famous bipedal redwood roamer exists. While the Bluff Creek Project might not have captured definitive proof of Bigfoot’s existence, their trail cameras have caught footage of the Humboldt marten, an endangered mammal widely believed to be extinct until 1996.
While the exact cause of the fire has not been identified, Streufert said he suspects something went wrong with the electrical wiring in the old building. He was quick to cast doubt on the possibility of arson, noting that while tensions might occasionally run high in the Bigfoot enthusiast community, it is unlikely someone would be livid enough to set his business ablaze. Like his business’ namesake, little irrefutable evidence exists to prove such a theory.
Despite the hardship of starting from scratch after decades of being self-employed in a geographically isolated area that can feel like a snapshot from decades past, Streufert said he was shocked and heartened by those who helped.
“It’s just been amazing how many people really care, especially in a time, where you kind of think like, people don’t care about each other anymore,” Streufert said.
Jackson Guilfoil can be reached at 707-441-0506.