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Washington Fire evacuees predict return to destruction

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As firefighters continued to tackle the Washington blaze in Tuolumne County on Friday, residents living in the evacuated areas were eagerly awaiting when they could finally assess the damage to their homes.

At least 14 homes were reportedly destroyed by the fire that broke out on Thursday afternoon and around 500 people were still under evacuation orders on Friday. The blaze was estimated at 100 acres and 25% containment on Friday night, Cal Fire said.

Dwayne Rasler sat on a rock on the corner of Golf Links Road, looking past the roadblock of Sheriff’s Deputy Patrol Cars to where he knew the burnt remains of his Golden Dove Lane home now lay.

“It’s all gone,” he said. “That fire went up the mountain so fast.”

As the fire raged on Thursday afternoon, Rasler stayed as long as he could and sprayed water on the house where he had lived for 14 years.

Eventually, the water reduced to a trickle as emergency vehicles took over for the larger firefighting efforts. Rasler had to make a decision: leave right away with his beloved guitars and drums or make sure the neighbors were safe.

Rasler chose neighbors.

One of those neighbors, Janice Thompson, reunited with Rasler on Friday and sat next to him while waiting for Golf Links to open.

Thompson said she froze watching the flames. Her propane tanks exploded and she was thinking of her animals.

Rasler commanded Thompson out of the mountain before saving his Arabian horse, Mia Fair Lady. Mia suffered burns, especially to her face, but the vet said she would be fine eventually.

“The only thing that has kept her alive is the fact that she is so pesky,” said Thompson.

But Thompson knows there was another reason too. Without Rasler, Thomson doesn’t know what would have happened to her or Mia.

Rasler stayed behind and helped other neighbors, even saving another woman’s cat. At one point, a firefighting plane dropped water on him.

The only asset Rasler managed to save was his red Harley Davidson motorcycle. His musical equipment was left behind, which particularly devastated him.

Thompson is trying to raise money for her horse’s vet bill and said she thinks people would be more than willing to help Rasler buy a new battery, especially if they knew how selfless he was on Thursday.

“He’s a hero,” Thompson said. “He is more concerned with helping others than himself.

Golf Links Road was still closed to everyone around noon Friday because power lines were down, sheriff deputies said. They couldn’t say how many houses were damaged.

It burned fast, ”said Bob Squaglia. Watching the fire on Thursday was “nasty,” Donna Squaglia said. Bob Squaglia said it almost looked like a firestorm.

Bob and Donna Squaglia had been in their car on Golf Links Road, about three blocks from their house, since about 1 p.m. Thursday. Every now and then they went to town to get something to eat.

All they brought was their dog, Scrappy.

“He’s, like, relaxing,” said Bob Squaglia.

They hadn’t prepared a fire kit, but Donna Squaglia said she would when she returned. They have lived here for 42 years. They never had to evacuate.

People were happy Thursday night, he said. They were happy to be out. On Friday, however, rumors circulated among neighbors as they waited for updates.

A woman was allowed in on Friday to retrieve her husband’s oxygen tank. She also grabbed a toothbrush and some cold beer, she told the Squaglia.

Friends offered to host them Thursday night, but the Squaglia thought they could go home. Instead, they slept in their car, in the same clothes as the day before.

Judy Selloy, 79, lives on North Drive. When a sheriff told her to leave yesterday, she packed what she thought was important: her computer, external hard drive, her father’s Bible, pillows and blankets in case she had to sleep in his car.

Selloy is disabled. Her neighbors offered to help her pack her bags.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” Selloy said. “I would never move because of the people.

She walked to the Dollar General Store, which was closed, but employees brought seats for Selloy and his neighbors, she said.

“It was like a block party,” she said.

Selloy spent Thursday evening with his grandson about 10 miles away. They celebrated his birthday.

She returned to Golf Links Road around 10:30 am Friday.

“I’m right there, parked with my Pepsi,” she said.

Selloy said she can’t wait to get home and check out her approximately 1,500-gallon fish pond, which she has owned for 12 years. The fish pond needs electricity, but “I think you’ll be fine,” she says.

Lydia Gerike began covering the latest Modesto Bee news in February 2021. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and international studies. Lydia was previously a member or intern at the Indianapolis Star, Hartford Courant and Oregonian.

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Emily Isaacman covers education for the Modesto Bee Economic Mobility Lab. She is originally from San Diego and graduated from Indiana University, where she majored in journalism and political science. Emily interned with Chalkbeat Indiana, the Dow Jones News Fund and Reuters.


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