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49 Fire victims come together to heal

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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A year later, the 49 Fire is still fresh in the minds of the many people who saw their houses go up in flames in a matter of minutes. About 70 people – most of them victims who have rebuilt in the Parkway Drive neighborhood that suffered devastating fire losses in the Aug. 30, 2009, inferno – came together Sunday at Northpark Park to remember and heal. And when the wail of a siren cut through the afternoon air from nearby Highway 49, everything stopped, 49 Fire victim Delta Ricky said Monday. “There was absolute silence – it was like everyone’s heart started pounding,” Ricky said. “It’s what you see in war-torn areas – waiting for the next bomb to drop.” Ricky was relatively fortunate. She and her husband, Tom, escaped as flames began to engulf the North Auburn neighborhood. But their house was one of the few spared. Even so, they were unable to move back in for two months until smoke damage was cleared. In all, 63 homes and two businesses were destroyed. Cal Fire estimates $40 million worth of property went up in what is a deliberately set fire. Tom Ricky said the idea for the low-key get-together came from a neighbor as she stood crying in front of the remains of her home last August. “She said we ought to get together and talk about what happened,” Tom Ricky said. With notices on mailboxes to get the message out, the neighbors soon emerged to discuss things like insurance and the new comfort levels they’re feeling after a fire break was cut over the summer, he said. Firefighters weren’t invited – not as a slight but because it was more of a neighborhood get-together, Ricky said. Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery was the lone high-profile attendee, he said. Delta Ricky, who is a former Auburn Multipurpose Senior Center executive director, said she listened to fire victims – many of them seniors – tell of their continuing daytime trauma and sleep-time nightmares. “So many lost everything,” she said. “A lot of seniors worked all their lives to pay off their home loans, own a car and maybe have a boat. But they literally lost everything they ever worked for.” Dr. Mark Margolis, a child psychologist and medical director of Sutter Health’s counseling center, said that medical help – in the form of counseling or medication – can assist people who have suffered through the trauma of a disaster like the 49 Fire. For many, the anxiety and depression can linger and cause other problems, including substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorders, he said. “Eventually people need to go to thinking of an event as happening ‘yesterday’ to thinking it happened ‘a year ago,’” Margolis said. Reach Gus Thomson at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.