Schwarzenegger: Calif. Fire Devastation ‘Painful’

  Schwarzenegger: Calif. Fire Devastation ‘Painful’

31 August 2009

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USA — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday toured the remains of a Northern California neighborhood leveled by a quickly moving grass fire over the weekend, marveling at the extent of the devastation and consoling a sobbing resident whose home burned to the ground.

The governor arrived a day after the blaze swept through a suburban-style neighborhood in Auburn, a Sierra foothills community about 30 miles northeast of Sacramento. About 50 homes were destroyed.

“Every time I visit fires, it’s painful to see the devastation,” Schwarzenegger told reporters after his tour.

He walked down a street on which every home on one side and several on the other were destroyed. Charred cars dotted ash-covered driveways.

“My heart goes out to these people,” he said.

As he was preparing to leave the neighborhood, Schwarzenegger spotted a woman sitting on a sidewalk curb and crying. She stood as he approached, and the governor wrapped her in a bear hug.

“He had a genuine hug. I was surprised he stopped to talk to me,” said Tami Higgs, whose home on Parkway Place was destroyed.

She lived there with her husband, a California Highway Patrol officer, her 21-year-old daughter and 7-month-old granddaughter, all of whom escaped uninjured.

Schwarzenegger also praised Placer County Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Skogen, who rushed into a house to save an elderly woman who used a walker and could not escape on her own. He called the deputy a hero.

“Imagine that — you’re risking your own life to save someone else’s life,” the governor told reporters.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but it appeared to start in dry grass that borders the neighborhood on one edge. The neighborhood is also bordered by Highway 49, a busy commercial corridor, a shopping center anchored by a Target store and numerous local retail shops.

The fire in Auburn was one of several destructive blazes burning throughout California. By Monday afternoon, fire officials said it was 50 percent contained and no longer threatening structures.

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