Auburn residents sift through burned rubble

September 1, 2009 6:52:16 PM PDT
Residents of Auburn returned to their burned out neighborhoods on Tuesday and sifted through the rubble for the first time, in search of anything that survived the flames. In all, 50 homes were destroyed in Sunday's wind-fueled fire.

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It's hard to take it all in. There's plenty of destruction covering areas that once were people's homes. The first look can be emotional. Many fire victims had hope they'd find something in the ashes. Unbelievably, Shawna Rasmussen found a purse with some old photos intact. One picture was with her sister, niece, and a baby picture of her son.

"Isn't that sweet?" said Rasmussen. When asked how thankful she was that she had some of her son's younger pictures, she replied "I am more than grateful. More than grateful."

Over at the Willis home, the mission was to recover heirloom jewelry. They're shoveling dirt, from where they think it could be, to a sifter. It is hard dirty work and they can't help but wonder if things would be different had they stayed to defend their home.

"I would have maybe stayed and not left because I feel that either the resources weren't here to fight the fire, or they were deployed in the wrong areas," said Ryan Willis, a fire victim.

They're thankful, though, they got out alive from the fast-moving fire.

"I wish we would have had more time to evacuate. I lost my wedding ring, my mom's heirloom jewelry, my mom's urn with her ashes in it," said Kelly Willis.

"This is your diamond bracelet," said Ryan.

Genetta Ison thought tragedies like this only happen once in a lifetime. She never thought she'd have to live this nightmare again.

"When I was 11 years old, we had a house burned to the ground, just like this. So I thought that was it," said Ison, a fire victim.

CAL FIRE believes if the initial incident commander hadn't asked for 50 additional fire engines right away, the fire would have likely burned hundreds more homes.

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