Families begin to return home in aftermath of massive Clayton Fire

LOWER LAKE, Calif. (KGO) -- As of Sunday morning, the Clayton Fire, which has burned thousands of acres and destroyed over 150 homes, is now 95 percent contained. As a result, families have begun to return to what remains of their homes and properties.

There are families like the Ramseys, sifting through the ashes of what was their three-bedroom home looking for fragments of jewelry.

"We are thankful our neighbors are Okay, and then we look here and wonder, why my house?" said Bonnie Ramsey, who lost her home.

And there are survivors like Rhonda Straub, who stubbornly refused to evacuate because her cat wouldn't get in a crate and escaped. For four-and-a-half days, she hunkered down here with no water, no electricity and no cell service, protecting her pets and property as the fire raged on just 500 yards away.

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"I was looking for dark smoke and the direction of the wind. It's variable around here. I was watching and using my finger for wind direction," said Rhonda Straub, a fire survivor.

An estimated 189 homes burned down this week, along with 40 businesses. One of those businesses was the Habitat for Humanity office, which was rebuilding four homes destroyed in last year's Valley Fire. Now, their office, too, is reduced to ashes.

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"We're going to move into new offices this Monday and it'll be easy to move in because all we have to do is unlock the door, nothing to bring with us," said Mick Hutchinson, the Director for habitat for Humanity.

There is a neighborliness that's evident everywhere in what is one of the poorest counties in California, an area where some families who can't afford to lose anything let alone everything.

Then there are other hardships that come after the fire. They can't use the water because they haven't flushed the pipes yet. They also have to clear out the refrigerators out because power was out for three days.

One man and his dog Wheeler cruised through town offering to help anyone who needed it.

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"What is needed are Walmart gift cards now. We've been giving out clothes from our church and water. Water is like gold up here," said Rhonda.

Everyone is upset that an arsonist is likely to blame for all of this destruction. And now they're trying to mine the gold out of what was lost to rebuild new lives.

Click here for more coverage of the Clayton Fire.

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