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Residents reeling after fire consumes large swath of Weed, Calif.

WEED, Calif. – After a hot and dry summer, residents here said they had become dulled to the smell of smoke from wildfires.

But Tiffany DeVault had a bad feeling right away when the familiar scent filled the air Monday afternoon, and she asked her husband, Troy, to come home from work early, just in case.

He was too late. By the time the 39-year-old handyman completed the 20-minute drive, flames had already forced her to flee the house with their two children. Police barred him from getting any closer.

It wasn’t until Tuesday morning, standing outside a nearby Red Cross shelter, that he saw a cellphone photo of the home his family purchased just three months ago. Like dozens of other houses in the Angel Valley neighborhood, almost nothing was left but the concrete foundation.

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“It happened so fast,” he said, dazed by the destructive power of a fire that has stunned this town of 3,000 people just west of Mt. Shasta. He has struggled to explain to his young son a catastrophe that he barely comprehends himself.

“We’ve told my son we’re going to get help, and he’s going to get new toys,” he said.

Compared with many of the wildfires that have plagued drought-stricken California this year, the blaze in Weed was relatively small, scorching only 375 acres.

But it destroyed or damaged 150 buildings, tearing at some of the town’s most important institutions. The fire consumed two churches, a library and a community organization that tended to the poor. Machinery at the town’s mill, which processes materials for plywood, were destroyed, and it was unclear when scores of residents would be able to return to work there.

Houses were reduced to piles of ash and charred kitchen appliances. Burned-out cars sat in driveways.

“It looks like a bomb went off,” said Angel Fisher, 41.

No one was killed or seriously injured, and on Tuesday afternoon, life in parts of Weed seemed normal. The postman made his rounds with the mail, and a downtown café did brisk business.

But helicopters continued buzzing overhead, sinking baskets into a pond and dumping the water onto a still-smoldering hill. Firefighters hosed down the remains of houses, and fire retardant covered cars and buildings like pink sponge paint.

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Officials with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the blaze, named the Boles fire after the creek near its suspected origin, was 20% contained. Its cause remained under investigation, and fear of potentially stronger winds Wednesday kept firefighters working through the day to douse hot spots and dig trenches to quarantine the fire.

“We are not leaving here any time soon,” said Scott McLean, a Cal Fire spokesman.


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