Blue Bell fire family gets help

Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

A man who lost his Blue Bell Valley home in an Oct. 21 fire is remaining positive with the help of community support.

Ralph Souza, his wife and two teenage daughters have been living in a camping trailer near the rubble of their destroyed home on the 15000 block of Mountain Lily Road. The trailer has electricity and running water and was donated by a person the family had never met before.

He said various county residents have also helped by cleaning up the property and donating food.

"This is a community where we learn how to help one another," Souza said.

Lowe's, Ferguson Plumbing, General Wholesale Electric Supply, Walmart, Cover's Apple Ranch, A&S Metals, Safeway, the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians and local residents are among the many businesses and people who have chipped in.

"It just came from every angle," he said.

The fire's cause remains under investigation. Cal Fire Capt. Kevin Bowman said it started in a workshop and spread to the house.

Souza said the workshop, which contained various types of maintenance equipment, was well-constructed and did not pose any fire hazards to his knowledge.

He suspects a rodent might have gnawed on some wire, causing an electrical short and igniting the blaze.

A neighbor, James Miller, called the fire department when he saw the shop burning.

The fire was reported at 2:16 p.m. It was under control by 6:24 p.m., according to Cal Fire spokeswoman Lisa Williams.

Souza said he and his family were not home when the fire occurred.

"We went on a beautiful family outing Sunday morning to return to the devil's damages on Sunday afternoon, which took out everything we own," he said.

He was able to salvage a few small items from the master bedroom, and neighbors saved a lawnmower, fishing boat and truck from the blaze.

The family's cat escaped unharmed.

Souza said he lost construction, landscaping and musical equipment and the family lost all clothing and memorabilia.

They had lived in the house since 1995 and plan to rebuild.

Responding units include an aircraft from Columbia Air Attack Base, seven Cal Fire engines, one engine from Tuolumne Fire Protection District and one Tuolumne County engine.

11883155
The Union Democrat
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