Sonora resident Tom Griffiths thought he and his father were going to lose everything on the Columbia Way property that’s been in their family since the 1860s when fire broke out shortly before noon on Sunday.

Griffiths said he got a call at 11:58 a.m. from a neighbor about smoke in the area after seeing someone at an adjacent apartment complex dump ashes from a barbecue onto the ground.

“She said there’s smoke over here, I told her it’s a barbecue, and then she said, ‘I don’t think it’s a barbecue,’ “ Griffiths said.

When Griffiths went out to see what was going on, the fire was moving at a fast rate onto his property and eventually reached a barn that his father built in the early 1950s when he was a student at Sonora High School.

“I pretty much thought we were going to lose everything,” he said.

Griffiths evacuated with his father, Robert, to the ARCO ampm gas station and store across the street on Pesce Way.

Their roughly acre-and-a-half property abuts the back of a motorcycle shop and has three houses and a couple of garages, in addition to the barn.

Firefighters from the Sonora Fire Department quickly responded to the 20000 block of Columbia Way and were followed shortly after by personnel from the Tuolumne County Fire Department and Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit. 

All aircraft at Columbia Air Attack Base and other wildland fire resources responded due to the threat of it encroaching into the State Responsibility Area that Cal Fire oversees, the agency said on Monday.

Cal Fire said it also had 10 engines and a dozer on scene at one point.

California Highway Patrol had to shut down the northbound lane of Highway 49 at Pesce Way for nearly an hour to accommodate the fire apparatus at the scene. 

The barn was the only property destroyed or damaged in the blaze other than some surrounding vegetation, but it was a total loss.

All resources left the scene by about 2:30 p.m., Cal Fire said.

Neither Cal Fire nor Sonora Fire Chief Aimee New could confirm whether the fire started from barbecue ashes being dumped on the ground because it was still under investigation as of Monday.

New said the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office and Cal Fire were working to determine whether it originated within the city limits or just outside, because the area that burned is right along the border.

Sonora Police Department dispatch logs noted a call at 12:04 p.m. from someone at the Mill’s Garden Apartments next to Griffiths’ property about smoke coming from behind one of the apartments.

The caller also indicated they didn’t believe there was anyone at the apartment, the dispatch logs noted.

Griffiths said they no longer have any farm animals, but the barn contained old horse equipment, pricey leather saddles and other supplies.

He said he’s currently keeping the ground moist to ensure there are no flare ups and has yet to tally the monetary losses. 

“Until we get the all clear, I’m not thinking about anything other than keeping the place safe,” he said.

Personnel from Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit were also simultaneously fighting a wildfire on Sunday on Camp Nine Road off Parrotts Ferry Road in the Douglas Flat area.

The agency said the blaze was contained at three acres and some personnel remained at the scene on Monday doing mop-up work.

Contact Alex MacLean at or (209) 768-5175.

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