Thom O’hair Reports: Adventures With Mr. Fire

The Strawberry Music Festival had been held at Camp Mather, adjacent to Yosemite National Park, since 1983. Usually, during the summer, the site houses a family camp for San Francisco employees. Then, before the camp would be “winterized,” Strawberry would hold its Labor Day festival there. It was a reliable pattern.

In 1996, the lineup was set, and Labor Day weekend was coming up: August 29 to September 1. Thom O’hair, who developed his reporter’s chops at KCSC in Chico, California, and whose radio imagination led directly to the creation of The Strawberry Hog (the pioneering pirate radio station long associated with the festival), was winding down his usual summer season of managing the general store and ordering supplies for the upcoming festival.

Suddenly, Thom’s eyes, ears, and insight were needed, in order to inform the Strawberry audience about an impending disaster… the 1996 Ackerson Meadow fire. Added bonuses were Thom’s media savvy and his unique take on the “theater of the mind.”

Ever an early adopter, Thom used a dial-up modem to upload a series of reports to John Pierce, who relayed them to Strawberrians via the (legendary) email “bunji-list,” Strawberry’s nascent corner of the internet. While the news leading up to the festival cancellation was riveting and informative, it was Thom’s enthusiasm that became a great rallying point, and helped everyone stay connected, right on through to the rescheduled festival.

Just as the Hog has persisted through multiple technological changes (Reels to BetaHiFi to PCM to DAT to CD to…) Strawberry’s modes of communication have also seen many changes (landlines, direct mailings, going from check to e-payments, etc.) The WWW took off, shortly after these reports, but smartphones were a decade away, and so was the rise of social media. Came to pass 25 years, and any record of Thom’s reports seemed to have been lost to the vapors of time, or maybe the lack of a 3.5″ floppy drive. Many searches for the messages were begun, because everyone who read the reports remembered Thom’s “way with words,” and how they helped us remain united in the face of great tragedy.

Dateline: Camp Mather, Yosemite, California
The actual events, reported live (or as live as one could be at that time) from on the ground and embedded within the camp, come to us in monospaced Courier font, complete with critical information, wry jargon, classic O'hair-isms, brilliant insights, misspellings, and fractured punctuation. This is one of Strawberry's legendary stories: "Adventures with Mr. Fire," by Thom O'hair

Jumping forward in time, to 2021, we find Thom’s great friend, the legendary Festival Manager, and all-around awesome Californian, Mitch Third, got around to cleaning out his storage unit…. Yep, he came across a plain 3-ring binder, with an entire printout of the actual events! As Mitch would say: “Right on, right on!”

So, The Strawberry Hog is pleased to present this great memory. It’s been 25 years since the events recounted, and 20 years since the passing of Thom O’hair. We hope you enjoy it: