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Homeless Fire Victims Struggle With Losses, Grief With AM-Sierra Fire Bjt

September 14, 1988

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. (AP) _ Complaining of dizziness, searching for shoes, and tearful because the flames that razed her home may also have killed her dog, Rusty Cline joined a stream of refugees Tuesday who narrowly escaped a wildfire ravaging the nearby countryside.

Cline and her son were part of what American Red Cross worker Elizabeth Quirk dubbed ″the morning of tears″ at an evacuation center in a Grass Valley high school.

″The fire raced in on us. We ran for the car, but it beat us there,″ said Cline, 51, a resident of the tiny community of Rough and Ready, three miles west of Grass Valley.

She paused, weeping, then added: ″I couldn’t get my dog in the car. She was too scared.″

Her son, Lee Griep, 29, had stopped in during a bicycle tour of the nation that started from his home in Lakewood, Fla. The bicycle burned in the fire.

″I rode out in a firefighter’s jeep, we got separated from my mom’s car, and the fire swept right over us,″ he said.

More than 1,200 wildfire refugees have passed through the center since flames erupted Sunday, said Red Cross spokesman James Poole.

About 70 spent the night on cots in a gymnasium Monday, he said. Countless others slept in vehicles outside, at the homes of friends or relatives and in motels that are booked full within a 30-mile radius.

Some of the estimated 10,000 people evacuated at one point or another have been able to return home, if they found their homes still standing, according to authorities. More than 95 houses have been reduced to rubble.

Others have returned home only to be chased out a second or third time by the erratic, stubborn blaze in the drought-parched hills of timber, oak and brush.

Those still at the evacuation center wait, and wait some more, for word they can go back to their homes and for information about loved ones and neighbors.

Ed and Kathy Vierra, in their early 30s, were living in the open bed of their pickup truck with three young children after fleeing flames licking at their home.

″Of course, it’s hard, but at least I know where my kids are; where my husband is,″ she said, waving her hand at her family.

A 40-foot section of wall at the center is plastered with hundreds of messages, ″Call if you need a place to stay,″ or ″Just want to know you’re all okay, couldn’t get through on the phone.″ Most just pleaded, ″Please call 3/8″

Nearby are piles of donated clothes and food. A children’s activity area is decorated with their drawings.

Nurses at the medical station treat everything from scrapes to headaches.

Air tankers dropping fire retardant periodically thunder overhead through the smoke, drowning conversation. Occasionally, word comes in that another area is safe for residents. Don Blicht, 56, of Rough and Ready, got that word and immediately jumped in his recreational vehicle.

″We’re headed back to see if the house is still there,″ he said. ″I was hosing down the roof to put out cinders when we had to leave. We left the chickens and everything.″

Of those who already know their homes are gone, some have insurance that will reimburse them. Others may have to depend on government and private aid.

Cline, who had no insurance on her destroyed home, was asked about the future.

″I have no idea,″ she said. ″I just don’t know.″