In emotional return, Mosquito Fire evacuee finds home still standing

FORESTHILL, Placer County — The Mosquito Fire, California’s largest wildfire of the year, is still raging in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Since it flared to life on Sept. 6, it is only 20% contained and has forced more than 11,000 people to flee their homes.

Leaving her family’s temporary lodging in Roseville, Jamie Knutsen heads back to her home in Foresthill, Placer County for the first time in 10 days.

Knutsen and her family were forced to evacuate when the Mosquito Fire overran the canyon by their property.  

As Knutsen made the 45-minute drive, she mentally prepared for the worst.

“It’s like I have butterflies in my stomach but they are not the good kind,” Knutsen said as she drove across the smoke-shrouded terrain.

Knutsen knows the fire has already destroyed a piece of her community.

“My son has a friend that lost their home off in Michigan Bluff and another friend off of Lowe Street that lost their house,” she said. 

The Mosquito Fire continues to burn through the town she has called home for almost her entire life.

“It feels like a family up here and I don’t want to lose that,” Knutsen said.

As the mother of two approaches her property, Foresthill appears to be a ghost town with only fire crews surrounding the vacant buildings on usually-busy Foresthill Road.

Turning into her driveway, Knutsen breathes a sigh of relief.

“I am just glad it’s here!” Knutsen exclaimed.  “I am just shocked to be honest.”

Shocked her family’s home of 20 years that she shares with her husband, two kids and her mom, is still standing.  

“I am, like, shaking,” Knutsen said.  “Wow, that’s just crazy. I am so glad it is here!”

As of Friday, the Mosquito Fire has scorched almost 70,000 acres.  

“So there you go, that’s how close it got to our house,” Knutsen said as she walked through her backyard.  “That’s where it stopped.”

The fire line is just yards from the Knutsen family home.

“This is the only house they have ever known,” Knutsen said. “There are lots of memories in here and the idea of it being lost is just crazy.”

Cal Fire reports that, as of Friday afternoon, 13 structures have been damaged and 73 have been destroyed. 

While the Knutsen’s house remains intact, sadly, it is not the same for some of her neighbors.

“There are people out there who have lost their homes and I am one of the lucky ones. It just makes me feel bad,” Knutsen said, holding back tears. 

The scorched landscape around her home is like something out of a war zone.  Knutsen recalled what her backyard was just a week ago.

“A lot of times I will come out here, it is my quiet space, it is a beautiful view,”  Knutsen said. “It means more to me now than it did last week. It’s definitely my true home and I never want to leave it.” 

Just as Knutsen was about to head back to Roseville, a truck arrived with one of the firefighters that helped save her house from the flames earlier in the week.

“Thank you so much! Can I give you a hug,” Knutsen asked the firefighter who, with a smile, accepted.

“You are so very welcome,” he said.  “Happy to be here, happy to be helping.”

As she leaves, Knutsen hopes she will soon bring her family back home for good.  

“It’s hard because you don’t really appreciate what you have until you don’t have it,” she said. “So I am hoping we can go home in the next week or so. We don’t know.”

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