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Wildfires In California Touch Residents Of The Wasatch Back

Residents in the Wasatch Back continue to be impacted by the fires in both Northern and Southern California. The destruction is a sober reminder of how quickly and completely wildfires can destroy homes in the Western U.S.

Members of Utah Task Force three returned home Monday afternoon after aiding California officials battle the Woolsey fire in Southern California last week.  The task force was made up of 18 firefighters from the Wasatch Back. The task force sent nine personnel from Wasatch County Fire District, four from Utah Fire and Forestry State Land, three from Park City Fire District and two from North Summit Fire District.

Although the fire fighters are home safely, the California wildfires continue to affect residents of the Wasatch Back.

Peter Knauer has lived in Park City for over 15 years, but he grew up in Malibu, California. He works in Malibu during part of the year and stays at the home he grew up in, the one his father built in the 60’s. He was there when the Woolsey fire swept into town.

Knauer says that on Thursday November 8th he monitored the fire all night and on Friday morning he prepared his house by clearing brush and filling trash cans with water. Around 10:00 am the Sheriff’s department came and forced Knauer to leave. Knauer traveled half a mile down to the beach where he watched his neighborhood burn.

“I had to sleep down on the beach in my car. I came back early the next morning and I could not believe the devastation. This is not a fire that was just affecting movie stars and rich people. This tore at the very fabric of the community. From my 86-year-old neighbor who lived there longer than us, for 60 years, who now is homeless. She’s probably never going to live in Malibu again. To Zuma Jay a surf shop owner who is on the city council in Malibu who is now in the hospital in the ICU. He was trying to defend his home and it unfortunately burned to the ground and he was burned as well. So, this just takes to the utter devastation. And it’s just unrecognizable from what it was just 24 hours prior. The street that I live on, there were ten homes along that street, nine of them were burned. That kind of devastation went on for block after block or street after street. Utter devastation, you can’t even recognize the place anymore.”

Meanwhile the Camp Fire located in Northern California has also touched residents of the Wasatch Back. Park City resident Ceci Laufer said her brother Declan Dunn has lived in Paradise, California for over 20 years. Laufer says her brother lost his home in under an hour.

“He went to a business meeting and there was no evacuation at that point. The fire was very small, the meeting lasted an hour and he came out and he was never allowed back into his home. Luckily, he wasn’t in his home his girlfriend, who he’s lived with for many years was away on a business trip. Both of them are fine but they lost everything in their home, their dog and four cats. He was literally left with the clothes on his back and the car he drove to the meeting. It was gut wrenching they’ve been destroyed. His next-door neighbor died in his house. His whole area is gone. He hasn’t been able to go back yet they haven’t’ let him back in to even see the devastation but he’s been told that he has nothing.”

Laufer noted that donations are needed as people rebuild their lives.

The Woolsey and Camp fires have burned about 250,000 acres in the state, destroyed nearly 15,000 structures, and taken at least 80 lives.

KPCW reporter David Boyle covers all things in the Heber Valley as well as sports and breaking news.
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