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Some residents return to burned remnants of their homes

Sheriff’s deputy a ‘hero’ after rushing into flames to save woman
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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On Monday, two brothers were sifting through still-smoking debris to find any remnant of the home in which they grew up. A couple was rummaging through their destroyed home, happy that at least their fire-proof safe had withstood heavy flames. And a young deputy became a hero after he rushed into a burning home to save an elderly woman who couldn’t get out. The 49 Fire that sparked in Auburn Sunday afternoon destroyed about 60 buildings, including homes and businesses. On Monday, many of the residents of the more than 200 homes forced to evacuate waited anxiously to return to survey what is left of their neighborhood. However, some made their way back to see what was left. ‘It’s kind of like our history is erased’ Brothers Ben and Steve Jones found a way into their neighborhood off Parkway Drive in Auburn. The area was closed off to residents but the brothers trekked in through a back trail. They wanted to check in on their parents’ home and see what happened to the homes of friends and neighbors. They found a scene of completely destroyed houses. Red fire retardant covered some sidewalks and vehicles. Plots of land where homes once stood were reduced to piles of gray ash still smoking — including the home their parents had owned for the past 32 years. “I feel bad for my folks,” Ben Jones said Monday. “They didn’t save a single thing, picture or video. It’s kind of like our history is erased.” Ben Jones said it was a hasty exit for his parents Sunday afternoon when the fire came down a hill not too far from their home. He said his parents saw their fence catch fire just as they pulled out of the driveway. “They had no time to grab anything,” Ben Jones said. As the brothers walked through the ash and charred debris of their parents’ home, Ben Jones pointed to three 50-gallon water jugs in the backyard. “(My mother) was ready for any sort of disaster but never expected a fire to go through,” Ben Jones said. The two men began to sift through what they could of the debris. They said they were looking for any sort of keepsake or memento they could find. “You think there’s nothing left but you never know,” Ben Jones said. “There could be a picture or piece of jewelry. I know my mom would be so happy if we found a couple things.” ‘We’re done’ Tami and R.C. Higgs were at a wedding when they received a frantic phone call from their daughter. The daughter was telling the Higgses that their home on Parkway Place had just started burning and she and her 6-month-old baby just made it out. “Our daughter ran out with her baby and a diaper,” Tami Higgs said. “That’s all we could save.” Tami Higgs said the couple was planning to remodel their home of 14 years. Recently, her daughter and son-in-law had moved in with their baby. She said they were going to “build up and out.” “We were going to stay here for a while,” Tami Higgs said. Instead, Tami Higgs said the family plans to move elsewhere. She said five years ago a grassfire burned their fence. “I definitely will not rebuild here,” Tami Higgs said. “We’re done. I’m done.” On Monday, Tami Higgs and her husband, R.C., were able to drive into their neighborhood because R.C. Higgs is an officer with the California Highway Patrol. The two donned rubber boots, breathing masks and gloves as they picked up what they could save. A pair of burnt blue jeans was laying among blackened books. Tami Higgs said they were able to find some pictures and their fire-proof safe was still standing. However, the brand-new baby furniture they had bought to welcome their granddaughter was gone. “We’ve lost heirlooms and so many things it’s not even funny,” Tami Higgs said. “We need to sift through with a fine-tooth comb and find what we can.” ‘A true hero’ Placer County Sheriff Deputy Ken Skogen was at South Park Place in Auburn helping evacuate many residents whose homes were already catching fire Sunday afternoon. As he was on scene, a man rushed up to him and said his mother was trapped inside her burning home and couldn’t get out, Skogen recalled. “I asked him, ‘What part of the house?’ and he pointed to the right-front corner,” Skogen said. As he came to a window he looked in and saw an elderly woman standing with her walker and staring back out the window. Skogen said he broke the window but the woman wouldn’t walk forward and it was too high to pull her out. He then ran to a nearby door, kicked it in and rushed to the woman. “She wouldn’t let go of her walker,” Skogen said. The deputy was able to pry her hands from the walker and then carried her out of the smoke-filled house and laid her on the front lawn. “Her son had a pair of jeans and we put that under her head,” Skogen said. Skogen said he tried to call for an ambulance but couldn’t contact one amid all the chaos. They ended up loading the woman into his partner’s car, who drove her to a local hospital. Skogen said he ran into the son later that night. “He said, ‘she’s fine’ but he was too devastated to talk,” Skogen said. “His house burned down.” Skogen was hesitant to acknowledge his effort to save a resident, but fellow law enforcement brought the story to the media’s attention. “It’s something any one of us would do,” Skogen said. On Monday, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured a burned neighborhood on Parkway Drive, Sheriff Ed Bonner informed the governor of the deputy’s efforts. In a later press conference, Schwarzenegger called the deputy “a true hero.” “I told him, ‘You’re my hero. You’re all my heroes. You risked your life to save someone else’s life. That’s the ultimate sacrifice,’” Schwarzenegger said. Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com.