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2 LDS families lose homes in Sierra fire

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A wildfire that ravaged more than 25,000 acres in Northern Claifornia's Gold Rush country has taken its toll among members of the Auburn Claifornia Stake, making it necessary to mobilize stake emergency preparedness plans.

"It is still uncertain how many Church members have lost homes, although two are definitely confirmed," Dorothy Varney, stake public communications director, reported Sept. 13.Sister Varney said the fire had primarily affected members of the Penn Valley Ward and Comptonville Branch. She said all members of the ward and some members on the perimeter of the branch's boundries had been evacuated after the fire broke out about 9 a.m. on Sept. 11. The blaze was caused by a runaway trash fire, officials said.

"Until evacuees are allowed to return, they will not know if their homes are saved," Sister Varney reported. she noted that the fire had been 30 percent contained as of Sept. 13.

Stake Pres. Donald K. McCauley and Jack Wood, in charge of stake emergency preparations, offered the Nevada City Ward meetinghouse to the Red Cross as an evacuation center, but a high school was ultimately designated as the center.

In the early hours of the fire, members took food to the meetinghouse, said Sister Varney. The food was delivered to the Nevada County Fairgrounds for fire-fighters, and for residents who had taken their farm animals to the fair grounds.

"We are having a real opportunity to test our emergency preparedness," Pres. McCauley observed. "We put plans into motion immediately to set up a coordination center in the Nevada City ward meetinghouse. At this point (Sept. 13) we can not get into the fire area to give physical help. But we are keeping in touch with our members on a one-to-one basis and placing evacuees in homes offered by members. When the fires are under control and we are allowed in, we will be ready and organized to assist in the clean up and re-building process."

Sister Varney said winds had calmed by Sept. 13 and stake leaders hoped by the end of the day they would be able to start assessing damage.

"This is a rural area, and homes are so scattered, it is difficult to assess damage," she said. "Last night, some of our members reported leaving just ahead of a wall of fire, but until they are able to go back they will not know what damage was done."

The wind-whipped fire caused more than $9 million worh of damage in and around Penn Valley, Lake Wildwood, and Rough And Ready, located in the northeast of Sacramento. The area is historic as the primary location of the 1849 Gold Rush.

Some 5,000 people in the ifre's path fled from theirhomes, according to wire service reports.

Many Auburn stake members are employed by the Grass Valley Group, an electronics manufacturer and Nevada County's largest industry, whose facilities have been threatened by the fire.

"Our stake president and three of our bishops work for the company, and none of them has been able to go to work," Sister Varney said. "The company's plant is still under seige. They have saved the most important building, the manufacturing building, but they lost three minor buildings."

She said loss of the company's facilities would be an "economic disaster" for the county.