Ryan Raney’s shift was ending and he was taking his cab back to the taxi company lot when he noticed a plume of smoke rising from above what seemed to be his neighborhood.
He didn’t think much about it but then decided to go look.
When he got to the bottom of the steep and narrow concrete driveway that leads to the house his grandmother had owned for 52 years, he saw Tuolumne County Sheriff’s deputies, multiple fire vehicles and around a dozen firefighters fighting a fire.
He asked a deputy where his 90-year-old grandmother, his mother and his 4-year-old son were. The deputy said he didn’t know.
Shock turned to panic. He tried to call his mother, but she didn’t answer.
Then his cell phone rang.
It was his mother, calling from a neighbor’s house. She said they were all safe, but everything was lost.
“I ran up to where she is, and my mom is balling her eyes out and my son doesn't really know what's going on. My grandma is the strongest one out of all three of us. I just can't believe that happened, I really can't,” said Raney, who is 34 and grew up in the Pine Road two-story house, as did his mother and his siblings
“I’m trying to stay strong for my family, but it’s hard,” Raney said.
Raney said his grandmother told him she was sitting in the kitchen when she heard an explosion and saw sparks flying from behind the freezer where the water heater was located. Moments later, there were flames. There had been no time to grab any of their things, Raney said.
The three fled with the family dog. Three of the family’s cats were still missing Monday, he added. Everything that had been in the home was lost.
Before the fire, the home had been painted in a deep red and was surrounded with front-porch decorations and scatterings of trees and shrubbery.
On Monday morning, most of the remaining walls were blackened, and most of the exterior structure had been charred away to reveal the framework.
Twisted metal and crumbles of concrete were strewn along the front porch, with a small stone fountain, stone lawn ornament and the metal springs of a mattress poking out of the debris. Downed power lines and burned foliage surrounded the home. Occasionally, a small bird would land on a burned beam, shuffle its tail feathers, and fly away to a nearby tree.
The home is located in the 19700 block of Pine Road, near an intersection with Oak Road. The house is up a steep driveway just under 100 yards away from Pine Road. The structure was surrounded with pink tape on Monday morning, but a garage or outbuilding and a car located adjacent to the home were not burned.
In the hours after the fire, the Raney family was provided with assistance from the Red Cross for food and clothing.
“They gave us money for food and for clothes, because all the clothes we have are on our backs,” he said.
Raney said that the family is temporarily living with his dad in Jamestown, and A Go-Fund-Me titled “Raney Fund” has been started in their name.
Raney said he was told by a firefighter at the scene that the exploded water heater likely caused the fire, but Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit Fire Captain Matthew Brady said no official cause of the fire had been made.
“A prevention officer from TC went out there to follow-up on the investigation. They were out there today still looking at the cause of the fire,” he said.
Emergency dispatch received a report of a structure fire around 6:30 p.m. with “lots of yelling in the background,” according to Tuolumne County Sheriff’s logs.
In the next hour, nine more 911 calls were made, a long plume of smoke visible from the Mono Way intersection with Fir Drive, and Highway 108.
Brady said that one battalion chief, three fire engines, about a dozen firefighters, three water tenders and a breathing support unit responded from Cal Fire and the Sonora Fire Department.
Firefighters were dispatched at 6:35 p.m., and the fire was knocked down by about 7 p.m., he said.
“Power lines were down, so that was another challenge. It was difficult to access. It was kind of a narrow drive to make access to the fire.”
Clean up crews were on the scene until 12:21 a.m. Monday, he said.
An additional 0.8 of an acre was burned surrounding the residence, but no other houses were threatened.