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Flames consume North Fork home, but widow stays smiling

A mobile home near North Fork burned down last week, and though its resident of more than three decades lost nearly everything she owned, she remained in good spirits as she watched the ruins smolder.

Around 1:15 p.m. Feb. 25, Cal Fire engines responded to emergency calls from Sarah Swiecki, better known as Sally, that the smoke initially rolling into her kitchen quickly erupted and began consuming her home on Road 226 near Walker Ranch Road.

Swiecki, sitting outside after her home was lost to the blaze, and as Cal Fire crews monitored the remaining flames and continued smoke, kept a bright smile as she told the story.

“I thought I had left my blanket on, but I didn’t sleep in there last night so I knew it wasn’t that,” Swiecki chuckled. “By the time I realized I saw flames in the smoke, I took the phone, ran as far as I could to the door with it, and called 911.”

Swiecki, 86, refused requests by the dispatcher to stay on the landline, and ran to get her white Chevrolet sedan off of the property.

Meanwhile, Cal Fire engines 4255 and 4254, from Rancheria and Bass Lake, as well as Engine 11 of North Fork and Engine 4294 from Ahwahnee rushed to save the home to little success.

As engines and water tenders arrived, the single-wide mobile home had already been ravaged by flames.

Nathan Lucas, the incident commander, said Swiecki’s home, lawnmower, golf cart, and van were completely destroyed, though her Chevrolet remained largely intact, with minor scorches to the front end.

Lucas said there were three possible reasons for the fire, potentially the home’s water heater that malfunctioned and sparked the flames. The cause remained under investigation.

Sitting beside her kneeling granddaughter Carrie Besharse, and longtime friend Ardell Ozuna, Swiecki responded with another smile when asked if all her possessions like photo albums or valuables were lost in the fire as well.

“Yes, and everybody thinks I have such a good attitude about it,” Swiecki said. “There’s just no point in worrying about it. Why worry about it? I’ve got enough gray hair already!”

Nearly everything Swiecki owned was consumed in the searing blaze, except for a few pieces of jewelry she held most dear.

Around her neck was a small shining necklace, given by her daughter who passed away last year.

Additionally, the engagement ring and wedding band of her husband Edward, who died around five years ago after around 50 married years, remained on her fingers.

“It seems like every five years something bad happens,” Swiecki said as she rubbed the wedding band. “And now, this was my thing. But I made it out ... I’m just happy I didn’t get any blisters.”

“I’m happy she made it out alive,” added her granddaughter Carrie Besharse. “It’s very devastating. I was in a total panic thinking she was still in there. But I’m so happy she’s okay.”

Swiecki said she had several other places to stay, including neighbors as well as family members offering shelter as long as she’d like.

And, including the tragic losses of her husband and two of her children, Swiecki added she’s still been through worse than a fire.

“I mean, I went through childbirth five times,” Swiecki laughed. “And that wasn’t exactly fun. So there’s a lot of things that can be as bad, or worse, than this.”

Swiecki was a lifetime resident of the land owned by one of her sons, and had resided there for 32 years.

A GoFundMe page was set up Tuesday by Melissa Jones, another of Swiecki’s granddaughters, to help collect online donations.

Visit gofundme.com/sallyswiecki to make a donation.

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