'49er Fire' 70 percent contained

September 1, 2009 7:50:55 AM PDT
As of Tuesday morning, the 49er Fire between Highway 49 and the Auburn Municipal Airport, had burned 343 acres and was 70 percent contained according to CAL FIRE.

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On Sunday afternoon, gusty winds pushed a grass fire onto subdivisions, devouring 50 home and businesses. Residents had little time to escape.

Still in her pajamas, Rachel Higgs barely had enough time to grab her 7-month-old baby who was just wearing a diaper.

"I had to run, shaking, to get my daughter. I grabbed her from her sleep, and I was running outside, and everyone was basically gone, except this one neighbor guy, he came by, asked if I needed a ride and helped us," said Higgs.

There's practically nothing left of the Higgs' home.

Owner Tami Higgs just can't believe what's happened. She was at a wedding when the fire roared through her neighborhood.

Governor Schwarzenegger was nearby, touring the devastation when he walked over to her and comforted her.

The Higgs came close to losing their home at another fire several years ago, but they weren't as lucky this time.

"It looked like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. There were things burning all over the place, like a Hollywood film," said Tami Higgs.

Firefighters are still keeping an eye on hotspots and are hoping those same gusty winds that fanned the flames stay at bay.

The governor assured fire victims throughout California, the state will do everything it can to help them through these tragedies.

"It's sad when you see that. When you see everything with nothing left destroyed. So my heart goes out to those people," said Gov. Schwarzenegger R-CA.

The fire nearly killed one elderly woman who couldn't escape the burning house on her own. Her son alerted a deputy who is being heralded a hero.

"I kicked in the door and navigated my way through the smoke, and found her. I picked her up and carried her out," said Placer County Sheriff's Deputy Ken Skogen.

The forecast calls for more winds tonight, but firefighters say that no homes are threatened at this point. Investigators are now focusing on grassland that borders the community and they are also trying to figure out what caused this fire in the first place.

Fire victims face devastation

A stack of charred China and a box of smoke-damaged metal figurines are about all that's left of a family home gutted by the 49er fire.

As tough as it is, Desi Casarez knows it could've been much worse for his fiancé and 6-month-old baby daughter, who escaped at the height of the fire.

"I had just left and was all the way across Auburn and she called me screaming on the phone telling me there's a fire, there's a fire. Only thing I could tell her was just leave, get out -- do not stay in the house," said Casarez.

Across the street, Shirley Butticci could only stare at what's left of 25 years of memories.

"We bought it brand new in 1984. I think it was and raised most of the kids here. There's not much more you can say about it. When Mother Nature strikes, she strikes," said Butticci.

Unlike others, Butticci's family couldn't retrieve any heirlooms because what is still standing is unsafe.

Jerry Gordon and his family spent their day at a Red Cross shelter, already knowing everything's gone, except for his prized green El Camino, still parked on the street.

"Everything was still red hot, smoldering. I didn't want to touch anything. I didn't want to get burned," said Gordon.

Doug Healing's two neighbors lost their homes, but his survived.

"You have to wonder, was I lucky? There was no rhyme or reason to how the fire spread," said Healing.

To make sure it didn't start again, crews spent the day looking for smoldering embers and in this case, extinguishing one spot fire before it got away.

And this is just the beginning of fire season.

"We are going into what his historically the worst part of fire season right now. It's just been dry all year; it's been hot all year. We always figure that September, October is going to be the worst part of fire season," said Del Walters from CAL FIRE.

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