Mary Norris, 78, was the first to spot the smoke coming from the garage. She immediately alerted her daughter, Cindy Varnado, who said the smoke went from white to gray to black - “it was that fast.”
At 11:34 a.m., Dec. 5, Cal Fire responded to a call regarding a residential fire on Miwok in Indian Lakes.
“By the time I called 9-1-1, the garage and nearly half the home was fully engulfed,” Varnado said.
Her next call was to her husband, Scott, a Chukchansi employee, who was heading to the hardware store in Oakhurst.
“When I got the call from Cindy, she said that there was a fire, to get home,” Scott said. Close to the top of Deadwood when he got the call, he promptly turned around to head back. “When I saw the smoke, how thick and black it was from a distance, I knew the house was gone.”
Firefighters arrived within five minutes and did all they could to save the home, but “as soon as we got out of the house, it seemed like ‘whoosh,’ Mary said, throwing her arms in the air to emphasize her point, “and everything went up. Unbelievable.”
“The firefighters have done an amazing job,” Cindy added, standing near her mother, who sat in a lawn chair a safe distance watching firefighters check for hot spots. Next to her were charred family photos, some barely touched by flames, and a burned jewelry box containing, among other items, her late husband’s cufflinks.
All that remains of the home is a burned-out shell. A fully-equipped RV and Ford F250 were also destroyed by the fire.
Despite the circumstances, the family, who have owned the home for three years and were fully insured, remained positive, saying “things can be replaced. People can’t.”
One worry is their 18-year-old Maine Coon, Sadie, who was no where to be found. The fear is that, in the confusion, she may have entered the home through her cat door. They are praying she returns to them safe and unscathed.
Red Cross has given the family an ATM card for lodging, food and clothing items. While several family members were expected to visit during the holidays, those plans are now up in the air.
The cause of the fire, which is believed to have started in the garage, is under investigation by Cal Fire.