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'It's like a bomb went off' | Markleeville residents head back home as evacuation orders lift in Tamarack Fire

"We're all feeling glad that most of our houses were saved. We're feeling together. We're hugging. We're determined to put the community back together."

MARKLEEVILLE, Calif. — For Jerry and Janine Sprout, a husband and wife who've spent nearly four decades in the small town of Markleeville, the sight of singed mountains and burned trees marked their drive back into town.

"We just drove into Markleeville and this fire went everywhere," Jerry said. "I can say, absent the firefighters, that every single house in this county, spread far apart, would have burned. We’re feeling relieved, grateful and shocked at the same time.”

Jerry and Janine were forced from their home as the Tamarack Fire raged in the area, prompting evacuations for Markleeville. They got the call nearly five days ago and didn't hesitate. They had their personal belongings packed and ready to go, like so many others in the area. 

For Dr. Richard Harvey, a doctor of emergency medicine who has also lived in the area for nearly four decades, the call to go was a bit more abrupt. He said the flames were roughly coming toward his home from the nearby valley, but they weren't quite visible at the time.

“A deputy pulled up to our house and ran up to the house. He was out of breath and said to us, ‘you need to get out, right now. You need to get out now.’ As in, no you can’t go back…,” Harvey said.

In 15 minutes, Harvey was out the door with his wife wondering whether the fire would actually reach the home. After the evacuations were lifted, he and his wife made the drive back home.

“There’s been so much smoke in the air that it’s been hard to see what the burn looks like," Harvey said. "However, today when we went back… we could see much more clearly, and we’re stunned at the amount of destruction: the black trees, the ground is burnt as far as you can see up into the hills on either side of the road that leads into Markleeville is just burnt.”

“It’s not going to look the same in our lifetime. I don’t think,” he added.

Both the Sprouts and Harvey's came back to find their homes intact after five days away. It's some relief that was mixed an abundance of emotions after seeing the fire damage around the area.

“We had no idea that it crossed and you know what it had done," Janine said. "But to see everything black to see just sticks of trees. It’s like a bomb went off. It's a very strange experience."

Credit: Janine Sprout
Janine Sprout sees the devastation caused by the Tamarack Fire driving back into Markleeville.

Janine found everything from her house to her garden intact, but around them, the hill was burned down to the meadow, she said.

“It's just gut-wrenching. I almost feel sick, actually, today for the very first time and extremely tired. So I think it's been very exciting until this moment, in that we were watching... the fire, but we really, I think, didn't realize the full impact on our houses and our friends until now," Janine said.

Some in the area know Markleeville, as Jerry describes it, as a small but quirky town with its fair share of tourism. People have some favorite trails and creeks in the area, but after the fire, Harvey said the realization is that some of those places weren't spared.

“We’re sort of numb. We’re just sort of coming to. We’ve been in some sort of a strange otherworld and now we’re kind of putting it all together, seeing what’s burnt, what’s left, what’s not. Feeling glad that we still have our houses but also looking just beyond our houses and seeing how far and wide the burn is," Harvey said.

Harvey said there's still a feeling of camaraderie in the town as people head home. 

"We're all feeling glad that most of our houses were saved. We're feeling together. We're hugging. We're determined to put the community back together," he said.

The fight against the Tamarack Fire continues.

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