Oak Fire: Marin Co. native recently diagnosed with autoimmune disease loses home in wildfire

J.R. Stone Image
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Marin Co. native loses his home in Oak Fire
Marin County native Chris Van Leuven loses home in the Mariposa Oak Fire after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease earlier this week.

MARIPOSA, Calif. (KGO) -- The Oak Fire in Mariposa County has scorched thousands of acres and, while firefighters are making progress, some people are now getting official word that their home was lost.

"The sheriff's department just called me today to verify that my house had burned down," said Chris Van Leuven of Mariposa.

RELATED: Air quality advisory extended through Wednesday in Bay Area due to smoke from Oak Fire

Van Leuven grew up in Marin County but was renting a home on the outskirts of Mariposa. He was out biking with friends Friday, looked back, and saw smoke.

"There was a fire in the vicinity of where we were and it was building up very quickly," Van Leuven said. "Billowing black smoke took off in the sky right away, and I never seen any fire like that."

Van Leuven, an avid outdoorsman and journalist, was able to get his dog and some of his items from his home, with the thought that he'd come right back for more.

That never happened as the fire strengthened, authorities evacuated the neighborhood, and he received troubling news for the second time in a week.

"This wasn't the saddest thing or news that I got this week. I came down with an autoimmune disorder this week that I got word of, so I was crying a lot about that and then my house burned. It was kind of a lot more than I could take," Van Leuven said.

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Van Leuven's home and his landlord's home are two of at least 55 structures that have been destroyed in the Oak Fire.

Kara Franklin of Richmond took pictures showing the plume of smoke she saw on the way to her father-in-law's home in Coarsegold, California. She says smoke and ash have been a major issue there.

"We would go out from our hotel room to the car and there was soot everywhere, just like raining down," said Franklin.

But as bad as everything looks, Van Leuven and others we spoke with are hopeful.

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Stanford researchers have discovered that some areas in the West are more vulnerable to wildfires, in what they describe as "double-hazard" zones.

"You know, I'm sad, but I have my dog Fenster next to me and that makes me happy," Van Leuven said.

Van Leuven's friend Heidi Wirtz has started a fundraising campaign. She shared Chris's Venmo information: @ChrisVanLeuven on her Facebook page with a note that says in part, "My dear friend Chris Van Leuven needs some help! Chris just lost his home in the Mariposa Fire #oakfire. Not only is he displaced and lost much of his belongings but he also was diagnosed with a pretty gnarly autoimmune disease last week."

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