AUBURN (CBS13) — It was called The Perfect Storm.
The 49er Fire that burned in 2009 near Highway 49 in Auburn was the convergence of two arson-sparked blazes. They chewed through dry brush, jumped over roads and burned images into the minds of so many.
Nearly five years later, the nightmare is as vivid as it is still disturbing.
“And then all of a sudden there be a black plume of smoke come up another house and we just watch that thing leapfrog across there,” said Tom Williams.
It landed in a neighborhood where Skip Coskey waited, feeling the heat until the bitter end.
“I tried to save our house and everything,” he said.
It didn’t work. His house burned to the ground, as did the neighbors on both sides and most other homes in the neighborhood. In all, 62 homes were destroyed.
Gary Beldner was lucky. His home only suffered smoke damage. But he’s had respiratory problems ever since. What he saw that day literally took his breath away.
“This place was already blazing,” he said. “It was half gone and I drove through the firestorm to get out of the neighborhood.”
Others couldn’t drive. The flames turned more than 70 vehicles into melted metal.
But it also ignited a burning desire to rebuild. Most like Skip have their homes bigger and better, and their appreciation for life has never been greater.
When the weather warms and the winds pick up, though, residents have an eye out for a repeat blaze.