“Suspicious” fire that destroyed Auburn mobile home under investigation

9 victims flee with little but the clothes on their backs
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Nine people escaped safely from flames that consumed a mobile home on the outskirts of Auburn in a fire Thursday night that authorities are describing as “suspicious.”

The fire broke out in the mobile home at about 6 p.m. Thursday in the 10000-block of Werner Road, on a stretch that parallels the eastern side of Interstate 80 near the approach to Old Town Auburn.

On Friday, investigators from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and Cal Fire were huddling at the side of the charred shell of the mobile home and planning to sift through the rubble for clues to a cause.

The American Red Cross had provided the nine – six adults and three children – with accommodations for three nights in local motels, plus funds for food.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Nelson Resendes, of the investigations unit, said Friday that the fire is believed to have broken out inside the house or on an enclosed porch. Determining a cause would be part of an investigation into a fire considered “suspicious,” he said.

Yellow, crime-scene tape surrounded the burned home and a century-old oak tree was toppled for safety reasons the morning after the fire and crushed a tent-trailer when it was felled.

Lynne Tolmachoff, Cal Fire-Placer County Fire spokeswoman, said firefighters from her department, as well as Auburn Fire and the Newcastle Fire Protection District, were challenged by a stubborn wind blowing in gusts of up to 20 mph from the southeast. But the fire was contained to the immediate area surrounding the mobile home, singeing low-cut grass but not spreading. Four houses surround the burn site.

Deborah Forester, a neighbor, said explosions could be heard as the fire spread over the double-wide mobile home and flames rose 30 feet into the air.

The future well-being of some of the displaced mobile home residents was being aided by a fund called the Ashlee and Daniel Fire Recovery Fund established at Wells Fargo Bank by a relative. Orem, Utah’s Hallie Wilson, whose husband is a half-brother to fire victims Ashlee Wilson, 19, and her 16-year-old brother, Daniel, said the two have had “unbelievable” hard luck in recent months.

Ashlee Wilson escaped from the fire with her sons, ages 2 and 4. Daniel is a student at Chana High School, Hallie Wilson said. The brother and sister lost their mother three months ago when she suddenly passed away, she said. Their father died in 2007.

Ashlee and Daniel had been renting the house after the death of their mother and are believed to have no renter’s insurance, Wilson said. All their belongings were destroyed.

As well as the Wilsons, five other adults were displaced, American Red Cross public affairs volunteers Bob Eger said. In addition to emergency lodging and food, the Red Cross provided clothing and essential toiletries. Each child was given a Mickey Mouse toy and a comfort quilt.

Heath Wakelee, Red Cross disaster action team leader, said the quilts were made by the local quilters guild.

“Their own blankies burned so the children latched right onto them,’ Wakelee said.

Wakelee said occupants had no time to collect possessions.

“Mobile homes burn very quickly,” Wakelee said. “In a normal house fire, we teach that they have 90 seconds to safely get out. In a mobile home fire, it’s shorter than that. They lost everything.”

Wilson said donations to the Ashlee and Daniel Fire Recovery Fund can be made at any Wells Fargo location.