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2 Homes Destroyed in 39-Acre Wheatland Grass Fire

WHEATLAND -- Two houses are gone and almost 40 acres were left blackened in Wheatland as the summer sun blazed down on dry fields Monday between Monarch Trail Drive and Spenceville Road.

"Golf cart or SUV caught on fire right in front of their barn and it was ugly...ugly," said neighbor Larry Benninger.

Benninger had the hair burned off of his legs as he tried to help. He said the flames raced north in seconds.

"Faster than you could run. I got on my tractor trying to put it out," he said. "But I couldn't keep up. The wind changed and it went faster down the hill."

It was so fast that crews from Cal Fire, Wheatland, Placer County and Beale Air Force Base couldn't focus on the expanding perimeter at first.

"We were really forced into tackling the structures and keeping out of that which allowed the fire to spread a little bit more before we got more resources in to get it caught," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Sean Griffis.

"See on the other side of the silver barn there's a pond...guy with a helicopter was dipping in there," Benninger said. "These guys worked hard. Pretty amazing."

Benninger runs Wheatland Natural Beef right across the road from the now charred fields. He said the land belongs to folks who've lived in the area for 35 years and had just put a new house on it four months ago.

The others affected had been on Monarch Trail Drive trial for six months.

Benninger was able to save his horses grazing on the land that burned.

And just like he jumped in to help his neighbors, someone's helping him.

"My neighbor called and said, 'Bring them home...bring them down the street,'" he said. "He's coming to get them. Cuz they don't bother fences, but if there are no fences they'll walk out."

The fences that kept the horses penned in are now gone.

Though Benninger believes he saw the fire start with some kind of vehicle near a barn, Cal Fire has yet to officially identify a cause.

Three outbuildings burned down on the property, along with the two homes.

It was originally reported that one person living there was injured in the blaze, but investigators now say that elderly man had existing respiratory problems and just had more trouble breathing while evacuating.