JAMUL, Calif. – With heavy hearts, Anabel and Dewey Bratcher returned home Tuesday. At least it was the place where their Jamul home stood until this weekend when the fast-moving Valley Fire tore through the property, leaving behind ash and a trail of charred memories.
Since breaking out Saturday, the East County wildfire has burned 17,565 acres, in the process destroying nearly two dozens homes and a number of other structures.
Although the Bratchers weren’t home at the time of the fire, their five cats were. All are believed to have perished in the blaze, lost along with all of the family’s personal belongings including many of the relics of Dewey Bratcher’s Navy career.
“I was hoping one of the cats just might be hidden somewhere,” Anabel Bratcher said, “but there’s no way they would survive this.”
They left home Saturday with little else except the clothes they were wearing. It wasn’t until they saw news coverage of the fire showing homes engulfed in flames that they realized their home was among the devastation.
Standing near the burned out shell of their home Tuesday, the Bratchers tried to make sense of how the wildfire decimated them while leaving others seemingly untouched.
“I’m so happy for everybody that they’re OK and that their houses are OK, but look at that,” she said. “That’s weird because we were up on the hill, but that house is up on the hill, too — it’s just crazy.”
The fire also comes in a particularly difficult time for the family. Two months ago, Anabel’s son died.
“I was crying every day about my son, trying to come to terms with that,” she said. “I had finally gotten to the point where I wasn’t crying every day and then this happened and so now I’m crying about this devastation. It’s like our whole life was just wiped clean.”
Fundraising efforts have begun to help the Bratchers restore part of their lives. As of Tuesday, the emergency fundraiser had brought in more than $44,000 for the family.