A structure fire at 3311 Fawn Lane, off Grizzly Road outside of Portola, destroyed the garage and workshop of Bill and Virginia Muckle, 23-year residents.
Incident commander, Fire Chief Greg McCaffrey of Beckwourth Volunteer Fire Department, said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
Chief McCaffrey first spotted the fire in the pine needles along the fence lining the house and behind the garage as he was driving home from work last Wednesday.
Bill Muckle, 90, said he and his wife, Ginny, were alone in the house and napping when McCaffrey banged on the door and roused them. Flames were just beginning to consume the outbuilding and McCaffrey urged Muckle to move his car out of the carport to the other side of the house, a very timely move, as plastic parts on the rear of the car were already melting from the heat.
All the fire and water trucks from Beckwourth Fire Department's two stations came to fight the fire, with mutual aid from Portola Volunteer Fire Department and Sierra Valley Volunteer Fire Department as well as Plumas National Forest firefighters.
Muckle was impressed by the coordinated firefighting efforts that hooked up the hoses in a series and drew water from all the trucks.
"I kept hollering at them, 'can you save the house, can you save the house?" Muckle said. His wife of 65 years was in poor health, very frail, and confined to a hospital bed set up in the living room. He said EMTs checked on her several times in the course of the fire, but she did not suffered any ill effects from the fire.
Virginia's caregiver, Sandra Martinez, who was away at the time of the fire, and could not get past fire lines until the danger was past, when she returned to the house and resumed Virginia's care.
An Eastern Plumas Health Care ambulance also responded to the fire and was on hand, if needed. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze.
The fire caused considerable property damage, not only to the structures: a carport, garage and workshop, and shelter for a travel trailer, but also to contents that included a lifetime's gathering of woodworking tools and machinery, snowblowers, tractor, furniture and treasured memorabilia.
"I'm having trouble taking it all in," Muckle said immediately after the fire. He was still in shock the following day and hadn't slept well that night.
He was still perplexed and had never before experienced a fire in his life, "It's a very unfortunate thing to have happened."
The Muckles built the house themselves - everything but the foundation, which Muckle said he had never done before so he hired it done.
After that, the couple worked together to build their retirement dream home on their bare property. He was 67 and she was 64.
Muckle said he was a retired farrier, but that is a very modest accounting of the adventurous life they shared. He led pack trips in Owens Valley, and at other times was a teacher.
He and his wife moved to the coast, built a boat and sailed the high seas for three years.
Before settling in Bishop, they traveled the length and breadth of the United States in their travel trailer for a year.
"We've been happy for a good many years," Muckle said. "It's kind of sad to see it winding down."
His attachment to Ginny was apparent from first introduction. "We've been married 65 years last June," he said, "just in case, you needed to know that."
Right now, Muckle is adjusting to the loss of his possessions and the impact that will make on his ability to remove snow and keep up on household chores. But he and Ginny are still together and their dream house is intact, thanks to the swift action of Fire Chief Greg McCaffrey.
As volunteer firefighters were mopping up and putting away equipment, one firefighter called to another, saying it was the perfect ending for the day. The volunteers, who give of their time and practice continually, do so because they hope to save lives and property. All too often, they cannot save the home; containing and ending the fire is the best they can hope for.
But this day, they were in the nick of time and saved home and people, the best and most important parts of 3311 Fawn Lane.
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