Residents sift through ashes of West Fire

ALPINE, Calif -- Residents Monday started returning to their fire-ravaged neighborhoods in Alpine to sift through the ashes of what used to be their homes.

Many people had little warning when the West Fire burned through on Friday. They grabbed what they could and escaped just ahead of the flames.

“I panicked -- threw the guinea pig, three cats and my mastiff in my small car and took off,” said homeowner Sherry Merentis.

When she returned Monday, her home had suffered over $150,000 in damage, but it remains standing thanks to neighbors who raced to her house and fought the West Fire with her garden hose.

“I love all of those people. I just want to give them a hug,” said Merentis.

Many others were less fortunate. Thirty-four homes were destroyed and nearly 60 structures burned, according to Cal Fire.

One man lost his home tree-trimming business, his collections of vintage guitars and classic cars and his large gun collection.

“You have good minutes and then it hits you every once in a while,” said Alpine resident Jim Beaty.

But Beaty found a silver lining when he came back to sift through the ashes of what used to be his home. Firefighters helped him recover two Century Safes from the rubble. Inside the safes, Beaty found a substantial amount of cash and personal papers that would have been nearly impossible to replace. All had survived the raging blaze.

“I’m definitely going to get another Century Safe, for sure," Beaty said.