September 24 2021 03:30 pm

Tuolumne County families recall moments before Washington Fire destroyed their homes

Local News

JAMESTOWN, Calif. (KTXL) — The Washington Fire that broke out in Tuolumne County last week destroyed 18 structures.

Amanda English and her family are still trying to process the loss of the place they called home for the last seven years.

“We moved in a month before he was born,” English recalled, referring to one of her children.

When the Washington Fire ignited Thursday afternoon, she had left her home to go pick up her son, not knowing it would be the last time she saw it standing. 

“There, I saw the fire, it was just smoke and flames, my kids said it looked like lava,” she said. “By the time I got back, it was gone.”

She tried to get back home to save her dogs and grab what she could, but the evacuation was already underway. 

“My dogs were up there, we couldn’t get to them. My chickens, my ducks, everything was up there,” English said through tears. “They were my babies, they’re gone.”

The family’s three dogs were lost in the fire as flames leveled their home. 

Like the English family, Mike Sturzenacker and his family also lost everything in the fire less than a mile up the road from a burn scar that shows where flames tore through a nearby neighborhood.

Sturzenacker said he had just enough time to grab their essentials, his two dogs and escape the fire. 

“There were just a 40-foot wall of flame on my house just getting ready to eat and I just ran in the other direction,” Sturzenacker recalled.

Once he got to safety, he noticed one of his dogs had jumped out the back of his truck. Charlie’s remains were found days later. 

After six months of renovation, six years of memories, flames devoured their dream home in less than six minutes. He told FOX40 it’s too painful to rebuild.

“Not here, I don’t think that’s something that we could do. Losing our dog here, losing our dream home, I don’t know that we can come back here,” Sturzenacker said.

Both families said the community support is what’s getting them through this tragedy.

“Every time somebody that you don’t know donates to the GoFundMe or someone sends you a text or a phone call, it just lifts you up in a time where nothing else will, really,” Sturzenacker said.

“The community has been amazing. Small towns, they really help out. They step up when the people need it,” English said through tears.

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