Residents of Lake County allowed back into their neighborhoods Tuesday saw for the first time the havoc wreaked by the massive Clayton Fire.
Some were relieved to see their houses standing, but others like Jose Alvarado lost everything.
In Lower Lake, house after house was reduced to ash along Winchester Street. Flames reduced the area to just a few houses scattered amid a scene of devastation.
“My clothes are there, my tools are there, my kids toys’ are there,” said 25-year-old Alvarado. “Everything I [have] was there.”
The Alvarado family’s house was destroyed while he was driving home Sunday night — with his wife Alejandra and their two children — from his construction job in San Francisco.
His neighbor rang with news of the fire, Alvarado said, adding, "I asked him to get some of my belongings out and he said, 'Yeah, call me back in a little bit and I will.'"
Alvarado called 30 minutes later, but it was too late.
“Up to that point, I was still expecting to have a house still standing, right?” Alvarado said. “But we went in there and everything’s gone. Everything’s gone.”
Alvarado said he had just purchased the 1,800-square-foot house and accompanying garage only two months ago.
“That was my savings from since I was 18,” he said.
When Alvarado said he lost everything, he wasn’t being hyperbolic. He paid cash for the home in June and hadn’t yet been able to insure it.
“I didn’t have a chance to put insurance on it and now it’s gone,” Alvarado lamented.
The Clayton Fire, which investigators believe was sparked by suspected serial arsonist Damin Anthony Pashilk, has left another scar on a county that was still recovering from last year’s fire season.
Jessica Harrison said flames got within a stone’s throw from her house, but it wasn't burned down.
“I wish I could do something to help them,” Harrison said of neighbors who were less fortunate than her. “I’m thankful. I’m beyond thankful that I still have a house, especially since the day it started, the flames were literally out in that field – maybe 50 to 100 yards out.”
Upon realizing that fire crews had saved her home, Harrison also said, "We can't thank them enough. They're true heroes."
Meanwhile, Lake County animal control officials were feeding and providing water to ducks, chickens and a cat that had been left behind. They were told about a pig as well, but couldn't locate it initially, so hoped its family had taken it when they fled.
That was unlikely, though, seeing as area residents had five minutes to grab their belongings and rush to safety.
So Bertelli and her partner Nehemiah White checked the paperwork and then went back in to look for the pig. They found it cuddling up to a kids’ pool that they’d just refilled with water.
“We checked and he’s OK now,” Bertelli said.
Animal control officials have been putting in long days while the Clayton Fire has ripped through Lake County, with many people working from 6 a.m. till 8 p.m.
The most unusual animal rescue so far was an emu, according to Bertelli.
“That was interesting,” she said, with a laugh. “We had the [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] here to help us with that one. Thank goodness!”