NORTH FORK — Sometimes one meets the most remarkable people in the most tragic of situations. That was the case today when a long-time North Fork resident lost the home she had lived in for over 30 years on Road 226 (Old Town Road).
Sarah Swiecki, known to everyone as Sally, was sitting in her living room watching television just before 1 p.m. today when she smelled smoke. She went to investigate and determined that the water heater had malfunctioned and started a fire.
She immediately called 911, and when the dispatcher asked her to remain on the line she emphatically told them “No way!” She was on a landline and had to get her car off the property. The Chevy sedan did suffer a bit of scorching to the front end, but she managed to save it, and park it across the street.
Firefighters raced to the home at 55850 Road 226, including Rancheria’s Cal Fire Engine 4255 which was first on scene, followed by 4254 from Bass Lake and Madera County Fire Engine 11 from North Fork. Though they immediately began dousing the flames, the double-wide home was fully engulfed, and beyond saving.
BS14 arrived at scene along with Engine 4294 out of Ahwahnee and Water Tender 11, driven by long-time North Fork Station 11 firefighter Augie Capuchino, who was not only suffering from the flu, but had just rolled up on his sister’s mother-in-law’s house going up in flames. It took less than 45 minutes for the home to be entirely consumed, including the van parked in the carport and her golf cart on the front lawn.
As Sally watched the home she had shared with her husband burn to the ground, her attitude was nothing short of inspiring. She comforted her friend and neighbor who was in tears, and said “some things are just out of your control. If you didn’t cause it, then you just have to move on.”
Sally and her husband Edward bought Big Cedar Springs north of Oakhurst in 1965 and moved to the area from Riverside, she said. After about 12 years there, and a few years living in Ahwahnee, they moved to this home in North Fork.
Sally says she seems to have some kind of catastrophe every five years. Her husband died in 2005, her son James passed away in 2010, and she lost her daughter in 2015.
“I didn’t even make it the five years before this happened,” she said. “But I’m 86 years old, I’ll be 87 pretty soon, and I have seen a lot of stuff in my lifetime. This is just destruction, and I would take destruction over them being gone any day.”
Sally saw firefighters laying out a tarp on the grass, and wondered what it was for. Captain Allman told her it was for laying out any items that may have survived the fire. Sally doubted there would be anything, and said even her purse was left inside.
“I don’t even have a driver’s license,” she joked.
Her neighbor told her to come down to her house when she was ready; there would be a room waiting for her. Sally was grateful for the offer, and had a Plan B in mind just in case.
“I could always get myself arrested,” she laughed, which would insure that she had “three hots and a cot.”
The exact cause of the fire is under investigation.
(Photos by Gina Clugston)