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Five years after the 49 Fire

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It’s been five years since flames from the Auburn Fire chewed through the dry brush, even jumped roads, etching horrific images into the minds of so many.  The nightmare today is as vivid as it was that Sunday the 30th of August 2009.  The mental visuals are still disturbing for some who lived through it, including Mitzi Miller-Groghan.

Miller-Groghan first bought a home in the Auburn subdivision in 1986, in fact, she was one of the first owners on South Park Place in North Auburn.  There were 62 homes that were destroyed within blocks of each other in the 49 Fire.  All but two of the homes on Miller-Grogan’s street and South Park Place were lost.

“It came right through Hwy 49 and up Locksley Lane, and on into my neighborhood,” Miller-Groghan said. She said the heat was so overwhelming, so intense.

When she woke up that morning, she knew something didn’t feel right; it was a heaviness she’d never felt before.

“I was outside planting some African violets in my backyard, and I smelled smoke. I then went to the front door, and there was nobody around, and then I really smelled it,” Miller-Groghan said.

“My granddaughter Myra was sleeping in the front room, and I walked into my office, the smoke and heaviness was so intense.  I didn’t know what to take with me. I thought my computer.  I heard an audible voice at that moment; leave now you don’t have time. I heard it, I felt the presence, it was a voice from god,” Miller-Groghan grew up in the church, and had been going to church, but this experience was different. This was a clear voice from god she said, and he was directing her to get out right then.

As she left with her then three-year-old granddaughter firmly in her grasp, the fire was burning rapidly up her street. “I left with only that warning”.  As she made her escape, moments later her lovely home that she had built exploded into flames, literally as did her neighbor’s home at the same time.

The 49 Fire that ripped through her quiet neighborhood was violent as the incredible heat and flames took everything. The only thing that survived of her wooden home was a cast-iron stove and some bricks. Glass dishes were melded together as one.

The flames turned more than 73 vehicles into melted metal. The estimated loss was around $40 million dollars.

It didn’t take long after the flames ended for insurance to kick in, and the rebuilding process followed right along.

The grandmother said that she was still in a state of shock, and making construction decisions for Miller-Grogan acted as emotional triggers. She became more hyper vigilant after the blaze.

The sense of safety was a key self-protection mechanism for where she lived during the rebuilding process, she needed to feel safe, she needed that confidence to move forward.

This summer, three small fires which broke out close to the parameter of the 49 Fire have brought back fears, similar emotional stresses that flush the body as if it were the same day.

The damage that the fire took on her home was not the only damage done. Miller-Grogan now suffers from side effects of the shock.   To her physical self, stress started to show up later as anxiety from recent smaller fires that broke out nearby.  Working through anxieties from the fire will be a process, but Miller-Groghan is a survivor.

Facts about the 49 Fire:

Acres Burned – 343

Single Family Homes Destroyed – 62

Single Family Homes Damaged – 18

Commercial Buildings Destroyed – 2

Commercial Buildings Damaged – 14

Vehicles Destroyed – 41

Commercial Vehicles Destroyed – 32

Estimated Structural Loss – $40 Million

Firefighting Cost – $1.3 Million

Lives Lost – 0


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