LOWER LAKE (KPIX 5) — A week after a fast-moving wildfire forced them from their homes, people in Lower Lake are finally returning to see what’s left.
The so-called Clayton Fire destroyed nearly 300 structures, including 189 homes and 8 businesses.READ MORE: Former Oakland Police Captain Wounded During Fatal Shooting At Gas Station
The 3,900-acre blaze is now 80% contained and while all evacuation orders have been lifted, there’s not much left.
Matthew Porter and his wife Karen had just bought their Lower Lake home — paid cash. He is the equipment manager for the U.S. Olympic fencing team and was away in Rio when the fire broke out. His wife managed to escape with their two dogs, but little else.
Saturday, they were finally able to see the land where their home once stood.
Her garden is gone; his fencing equipment workshop is destroyed. As they sift through the ashes, they take inventory, but at the same time, try to figure out how to rebuild.
“The grill almost survived,” says Karen, pointing to the front of the house where there was once a porch.
The Porters thought they knew what to expect when they returned to their home, but as it turns out, nothing could fully prepare them.
“Coming to see it – the difference between knowing it mentally and coming to see it — that’s when it kicks you in the stomach,” say Mathew, choking up. “It’s very…it’s hard.”READ MORE: Storm System Brings Hope to Parched North Bay, Reservoirs
With every step there’s another memory. Karen points to the trees.
“My redwood trees… the lady who lived her previously to me planted (them) when her husband passed,” she says. “It really gets you in your gut when you can recognize pieces. I think that makes it a little worse.”
Still, the Porters see signs of hope everywhere. Like Karen’s goddess figurine from Portugal.
“I take her posture as a positive sign.”
The row of Redwoods symbolize resistance and rebuilding.
“Redwoods are good at coming back after fire, so yeah, you should certainly take that as a symbol,” says Matthew. “If you just keep living, hopefully you can keep going.”
It will be a long time before life resembles any kind of normalcy here. But they say the support from their friends and family will help them get through it.
Cal Fire says they expect to have this wildfire completely contained by Sunday, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be leaving town. They plan to be here a while, and that could mean until the beginning of next year.MORE NEWS: Family Killed On Hike In Sierra National Forest Died From Extreme Heat
Meantime, the man suspected of setting the fire, 40-year-old Damin Pashilk has been arrested and is being held on $5 million dollars bail. He is expected to enter a plea in September.