A fire off of Jacksonville Road engulfed two homes in the community of Quartz Monday afternoon, destroying a home and sending other residents clambering to save their livestock and themselves.
The cause of the fire was still undetermined, said Keven Patton, Battalion Chief for the Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit, on scene at the fire about 4 p.m.
The home where the fire originated was reduced to simmering and charred remains, and was referred to by some residents as a mobile home or a double-wide trailer.
The neighboring home, at 16138 Jacksonville Road just south of the property, was also almost totally destroyed. Dogs, goats, sheep, chicken and ducks that lived in wooden and wire pens on the 16138 Jacksonville Road property were evacuated into a back pasture area dotted with trees and vegetation.
“This is our homestead. This is everything,” said Mara Rosenhart, resident of the 16138 Jacksonville Road property. “It went so fast. We pulled two hoses from our side to keep it from coming to our house. But it was so hot we had to leave.”
Logan Nicholson, a farmer from Santa Rosa who was working and living on Rosenhart’s property for about a month, and Rosenhart’s young son smelled smoke about 2:45 p.m. when they went outside to investigate it.
Nicholson said he watched flames burning within the upper level of the neighboring home, which rapidly traveled throughout the house and down to propane tanks at the ground level, which exploded.
Rosenhart said she watched smoke billow from her neighbor’s chimney and then out of her air vents.
Nicholson and Rosenhart attempted to put out the flames with hose water, but retreated to safety when the radiant heat from the fire forced them to evacuate.
The owner of the residence where the fire originated was not home when the fire started, but arrived later. As she approached her home, she burst into tears and buried her face in a handkerchief
“I tried,” Rosenhart said as she and her neighbor drew together in a hug.
Fire investigation officials were still questioning witnesses and noting the direction of the intense and fast-moving fire.
Rosenhart said she did not know how the fire could have started, but said she also did not believe her neighbor was living at the home.
Other people she did not know may have been living there, she said, along with at least three dogs and many cats.
Rosenhart said some ducks, chickens and cats may have died in the fire. Following an interview with fire personnel, one firefighter handed Rosenhart a blackened boot which had been stuffed with a cylindrical cookie container.
Inside, a stack of $100 bills, checks and credit cards were warped, stained and burned beyond repair.
“If it hadn’t been for Logan here we would have lost so much more,” Rosenhart said.
Rosenhart lamented the destruction of her home, which she said she had lived at with her son for approximately two and half years. Rosenhart was evacuated from Arnold during the Butte Fire, she said, before moving to Jamestown.
Rosenhart was again evacuated during the Jacksonville Fire in late July 2017, and her car also caught fire after that, she said.
“Now this. This is just the latest fire,” she said.
Rosenhart received care for heart palpitations in a nearby ambulance before being released at the scene. Nicholson left the area inside the ambulance after complaining of breathing issues.
Patton said the fire was first reported at 2:52 p.m. as a fully involved structure fire, which initiated a full structural and wildland response.
Three spot fires ignited east of the fire, propelled by a southwest breeze that dropped embers and firebrands to neighboring homes and patches of vegetation along Jacksonville Road.
The largest of the spot fires was about 500 feet east of the fire origin and was about 10 feet by 75 feet in size. The large spot fire prompted a full air attack and the drop of retardant on a dry field east of the fire on the east side of Jacksonville Road. A dozer and hand crews were able stop the spread of the spot fire to any other homes, he said.
Patton said that fire crews were able to enter the second home to evaluate the extent of the fire damage during the initial fire attack, but the first home was completely consumed upon their arrival.
A power pole was consumed by flames during the fire, drawing away power from multiple residents inthe area. According to the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, PG&E said 85 customers were out of power along Jacksonville Road-Stent Cut Off and on Algerine Road.
It appeared as if intense radiant heat ignited the second fire on the neighboring home, he said.
Eleven engines, three water tenders, a breathing support team from Columbia College fire, two baseline crews, two air tankers and a helicopter were dispatched to the scene.
One air tanker and a helicopter stayed in the air to monitor the scene for any fire spread when the first air tanker dropped the retardant, he said.
In all, 65 fire responders were at the scene from Cal Fire, Tuolumne County Fire, and Columbia Fire District.
Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office deputies were also on scene speaking to witnesses and providing road closures along Algerine Road Stent Cut-Off Road. Tuolumne County Sheriff Bill Pooley was also on scene in the hour after the initial fire attack.
Representatives of Tuolumne County Animal Control were also on scene tending to the animals.
Patton estimated that fire crews would likely be on scene until after 7 p.m. mopping up.