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Community help gives new hope after fire

By: Michelle Miller-Carl, Journal News Editor
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When Glenda Hoffman and boyfriend David Sutcliffe moved into their new apartment last weekend, there wasn’t much to move. The couple lost almost everything they owned in the 49 Fire. But they’re receiving help from local groups and settling into their new place. “This whole community all pitched in and we want to thank them” Hoffman said. “We’re getting situated, but right now our rooms are a mess.” As they start anew, Hoffman and Sutcliffe are still coming to grips with the fast-moving fire that destroyed 63 homes and three businesses Aug. 30. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon at the couple’s rented home off Highway 49. Sutcliffe was taking a nap on the couch and his longtime girlfriend Hoffman had just taken a shower and was doing some laundry. That’s when she looked outside and saw flames in the weeds outside the small, cabin-like house, where fire officials believe the blaze started. “I’d never seen fire move so quick in my life,” Sutcliffe said. “I only had time to run back in and slide on my shoes and out the door I went.” The couple, Hoffman’s son Timothy and a friend worked fast to throw their cat and dog in the car along with some belongings. They parked across the street and watched with neighbors as the home they lived in for the last 10 years was threatened by fire and smoke. “I was still in my nightgown, I had just got done taking a shower,” Hoffman said. “Two-hundred people were out there watching me in my nightgown.” Hoffman said firefighters were able to retrieve a cedar chest that belonged to her late mother, but the rest was lost. Appliances that belonged to Hoffman were gone. They had no rental insurance. “You never expect this to happen to you. You see it on the news all the time,” Hoffman said. The couple’s burned-out home on Grass Valley Highway was known for the bright Christmas lights and decorations visible to motorists on the road. Although all their other holiday decorations were destroyed, the wooden star mounted on the roof didn’t burn. Since the fire, the couple has stayed in motels and with friends. Their pets have also stayed with friends. “I thought we’d be homeless for a long time,” Sutcliffe said. But one week after the fire they were able to move into an apartment with two months’ rent paid for by the Red Cross. The Salvation Army will provide them with vouchers to buy new furniture and beds courtesy of The Sleep Shop. Their cat Vince Gill (named after the country singer) and Lab-mix Keila have also returned to live with them. “We want to thank everybody. The Salvation Army, Red Cross and everybody who donated to these services,” Hoffman said. “We’re greatly blessed.” Bob Thornton, Placer District manager for the Sacramento Sierra Chapter of the Red Cross, said the 63 families affected by the fire have been assisted according to a Red Cross formula and their individual needs. Because the fire was declared a disaster, Red Cross has been able to provide more sweeping aid to those affected. “There are additional guidelines we can follow and offer our community when it is a large-scale disaster,” he said. “For us, this is large scale, especially compared to Oakland (apartment fire) or Southern California (Station Fire).” Thornton said because of misinformation and the need for confidentiality, some don’t perceive the Red Cross as helping local victims. “Essentially the money raised locally is kept locally. We do not send it away. We use the money that we receive for the 49 Fire and anything else we need is supplied by the national Red Cross,” he said. “If it is designated to the 49 Fire, it will be used in our community, and it has been used.” Michelle Miller-Carl can be reached at michellem@goldcountrymedia.com.