FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A chimney and a cinder block wall is all that’s left standing among rubble that was a house Miki Crawford and her family called home for 22 years after a wildfire raced through her Northern California rural community, the former nurses’ aide said.
“Everything else is obliterated,” Crawford said Friday. “It’s just a feeling of complete devastation and loss.”
Crawford said she and her husband, Jai Crawford, packed two cars with clothes, photographs, family heirlooms, their four pugs and one hound dog and fled Tuesday after the blaze burning in the hills near Yosemite National Park doubled in size.
Their son hiked to the area in Mount Bullion the following day and took photographs revealing a nightmare — their three-bedroom home and at least five other nearby houses destroyed in their neighborhood.
The aggressive wildfire sweeping through the Sierra Nevada foothills covered with dense brush and dead trees destroyed 61 homes and 63 other buildings. But it spared Mariposa, a historic Gold Rush-era town popular with tourists bound for park.
Firefighters lifted an evacuation order for residents of Mariposa and reopened Highway 140 between the town and Yosemite, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Andy Isolano said.
The wildfire that has scorched 115 square miles (298 square kilometers) threatened at least 1,500 homes and forced almost 5,000 people to evacuate.
Roughly a dozen of the destroyed homes had dotted hills 10 miles west of Mariposa. Residents a few miles to the north also saw damage, including Mount Bullion.
Crawford, 56, said there have been wildfires near her community in Mariposa County. But this was the first time they had to flee.
“We saw a video that showed the blaze coming from two different directions at one time, and it just looked like a fire storm,” she said. “It was such an erratic fire coming from all direction that there wasn’t anything firefighters could do.”
She said she hopes to clean up the area and buy a modular home to put on their land. Relatives have started a GoFundMe page to help the couple rebuild.
Firefighters were battling 17 blazes across California.
Outside Sacramento on Thursday, authorities say they arrested a boy suspected of sparking a small wildfire while smoking marijuana. The 12-acre fire near Auburn did not damage any homes.
In the fire near Mariposa, officials were investigating an injury accident involving a single fire engine that sent one firefighter to the hospital. No further details were available.
The fire was 25 percent contained after nearly $11 million was spent to battle the blaze, officials said. The cause remained under investigation.
The blaze had crept within a half-mile of Mariposa, but crews were able to stop it by dropping red fire retardant and using bulldozers and hand crews to build fire brakes, said Cal Fire spokesman Jason Motta.
Retiree Suzie Ummels, 61, who lives in Mariposa, said she learned through a friend that her home was spared. She said before the evacuation order had been lifted that she was going stir-crazy in an evacuation away from the comforts of home.
“I don’t know whether I’m blessed or lucky or a combination of both,” she said. “I just want to go home.”
Located about 35 miles southwest of Yosemite National Park, Mariposa features a charming main street with covered sidewalks and historic wood and brick buildings that house antique shops, restaurants, pizza parlors and art galleries.
Carol Dewey, who owns a downtown bed and breakfast, was one of several business owners allowed in Thursday to check on their shops.
“The place is like a ghost town,” Dewey said. “This fire has really devastated the area. Business is just flat.”
Dewey, 64, said people in their 30s have opened several new businesses and wine bars, attracting lots of young tourists. However, the businesses stood empty as firefighters worked to keep the flames away from the town with 2,000 residents.
The blaze came within 35 miles (56 kilometers) of Yosemite, where campgrounds were open, park spokesman Scott Gediman said.
Rangers warned visitors with respiratory problems to be mindful of the smoky haze over the park’s landmark Half Dome rock face.
Yosemite does not appear at risk from the fire, which was moving south, away from the park.