Trinity County residents return to what's left of their homes


JUNCTION CITY, Calif. - James Bernath and his wife lived in their home on River Acres Rd. along the Trinity River between Junction City and Helena for twelve years.

On Wednesday, August 30, his wife Holly went into Weaverville. She got word about the direction of the Helena Fire and decided to get home to warn James.

James said he was inside and the windows were closed, so he didn't notice the flames or the smoke. They saw how close the fire was and heard some small explosions nearby. They grabbed what they could think of and loaded up the pets.

"It was pretty scary," James said. "We drove out, we both drove our vehicles out here and there was fire all along the side of us as we were leaving."

They got 3 of their 4 cats into the car with their dog. One cat was nowhere to be found.

Thursday, over a week later, some residents were allowed to return to their homes. James went back alone to look for Clementine, the lost cat.

When he pulled up to the home, there was nothing left but ashes. There were skeletons of a washing machine and a few other large appliances, but the rest was ash.

What survived were a few law ornaments, the rocks made into headstones for buried pets, and amazingly, their Buddhist Prayer Flags hanging from two trees. James collected these items while calling for Clementine and sifting through the ashes that were once his belongings.

"I haven't had any time to process," James said. "Every time I meet someone, especially those who have also lost their home, we all break down. There's so much to do when something like this happens, that you have to take care of, so I have to stay focused."

He said he's been evacuated from his home five times in his life due to natural disaster, but this is the first time he's lost a home.

James and Holly had already considered the idea of moving closer to their grandchildren. He said this may be the time to do it.

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