BROOKDALE, Calif. (Reuters) – Sandra Stone’s family has been coming for years to the cabin along Clear Creek in Brookdale, California, that her great-grandparents built in 1907 using redwood for beams and cut glass crystal for windows.
It is now a pile of rubble after the CZU Lightning Complex fire swept through San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties in mid-August, killing one person, burning 86,509 acres and destroying nearly 1,500 structures.
“It made a lot of ash,” Stone said on Tuesday during her first visit to the cabin since it was destroyed.
The blaze was one of three massive wildfires in northern California ignited after about 14,000 lightning strikes during a freakishly intense storm, and one of dozens across the Pacific Northwest that have scorched more than 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) since then.
Burning through towns in Oregon and devouring forests in California, Washington and Idaho, the fires have thrown up a blanket of ash and smoke that has made the region’s air quality among the worst in the world. The fires have also thrust climate change to the forefront as an issue in the U.S. presidential election.
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Stone watched from her home in Santa Rosa, a 2 1/2-hour drive away, on surveillance cameras as firefighters drove down the skinny single-lane road trying to save buildings.
“We would go from thinking it was gone for sure to being hopeful that it was still here,” Stone said as she walked past a creek filled with charred debris, twisted bed frames and a clawfoot tub turned upside down with one of its feet missing.
It took about two weeks for Stone to prepare for seeing the cabin in person.
“My reaction actually started further down the road with the rest of the residences that were no longer, and it made me really sad because I can picture them here and now I can picture them gone,” Stone said.
She said her daughters want to rebuild, but she has no idea how long that would take. Behind the house, loose dirt and downed trees cover a steep incline, raising concerns of erosion.
“Everything that’s important is still here,” she said, sounding hopeful. “The trees are still here. The creek is still here. And it’ll be beautiful again in no time.”
(Reporting by Nathan Frandino; editing by Bill Tarrant and Gerry Doyle)