FRESNO, Calif. (AP) – A chimney and a cinder block wall is all still standing in the rubble of the house Miki Crawford and her family called home for 22 years after a wildfire raced through her Northern California rural community, the former nurses’ aide said Friday.
“Everything else is obliterated,” Crawford said. “”It’s just a feeling of complete devastation and loss.”
Crawford said she and her husband, Jai Crawford, packed two cars with clothes, photographs, family heirlooms, their four pugs and one hound dog and fled Tuesday after the blaze burning in the hills near Yosemite National Park doubled in size.
Their son hiked to the area in Mt. Bullion the following day and took photographs that showed their three-bedroom home and at least five other nearby houses destroyed in their neighborhood.
The aggressive wildfire sweeping through Northern California foothills covered with dense brush and dead trees destroyed 58 homes and 60 other buildings. But it spared Mariposa, a historic Gold Rush-era town popular with tourists bound for park
Firefighters lifted an evacuation order for residents of Mariposa and reopened Highway 140 between the town and Yosemite, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Andy Isolano said.
The wildfire that has scorched 115 square miles (298 square kilometers) threatened at least 1,500 homes and forced almost 5,000 people to evacuate.
Roughly a dozen of the destroyed homes had dotted hills 10 miles west of Maricopa. Residents a few miles to the north also saw damage.
Crawford, 56, said there have been wildfires near her community in Mariposa County. But this was the first time they had to flee.
“We saw a video that showed the blaze coming from two different directions at one time, and it just looked like a fire storm,” she said. “It was such an erratic fire coming from all direction that there wasn’t anything firefighters could do.”
She said she hopes to clean up the area and buy a modular home to put on their land. Relatives have started a GoFundMe page to help the couple rebuild.
Firefighters were battling 17 blazes across California.
A boy who had been smoking marijuana was arrested for investigation of starting a small wildfire Thursday outside Sacramento, officials said. The fire burned 12 acres in the Auburn area. No homes were damaged and no injuries were reported.
In the fire near Mariposa, officials were investigating an injury accident involving a fire engine. No further details were available.
The fire was 15 percent contained after nearly $11 million was spent to battle the blaze, officials said. The cause remained under investigation.
The blaze had crept within a half-mile of Mariposa, but crews were able to stop it by dropping red fire retardant and using bulldozers and hand crews to build fire brakes, said Cal Fire spokesman Jason Motta.
Retiree Suzie Ummels, 61, who lives in Mariposa, said she learned through a friend that her home was spared. Still, she’s going stir-crazy in an evacuation center as she longs for the comforts of home.
“I don’t know whether I’m blessed or lucky or a combination of both,” she said. “I just want to go home.”
Located about 35 miles southwest of Yosemite National Park, Mariposa features a charming main street with covered sidewalks and historic wood and brick buildings that house antique shops, restaurants, pizza parlors and art galleries.
Carol Dewey, who owns a downtown bed and breakfast, was one of several business owners allowed in Thursday to check on their shops.
“The place is like a ghost town,” Dewey said. “This fire has really devastated the area. Business is just flat.”
Dewey, 64, said people in their 30s have opened several new businesses and wine bars, attracting lots of young tourists. Now the businesses stand empty as firefighters work to keep the flames away from the town with 2,000 residents.
The blaze came within 35 miles (56 kilometers) of Yosemite, where campgrounds were open, park spokesman Scott Gediman said.
Rangers warned visitors with respiratory problems to be mindful of the smoky haze over the park’s landmark Half Dome rock face.
Yosemite does not appear at risk from the fire, which was moving south, away from the park.
Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.
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