Firefighters salvage personal treasures from man's 'dream home' that was devastated by wildfire

Mark Puleo

The Kincade Fire has devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians in the Sonoma County area. From the hundreds of residences destroyed, countless families returned home to find their treasures and belongings in a heap of ashes.

Jeff Thomsen found the similar pile of ashes, but heroic efforts from members of the Ophir Hill Fire Department blunted the sting of tragedy.

Thomsen resided in his dream home in a vineyard off Highway 128 in Geyserville. After 35 years, Thomsen never could have imagined that dream turning to a nightmare.

"I felt stupid for not grabbing stuff," Thomsen told ABC News. "But I figured I'd be back."

Thomsen's dream home, where he had lived for 35 years before the Kincade Fire. (ABC News)

Rather, Thomsen's "dream home" was one of the 374 structures destroyed by the state's largest wildfire of 2019. Firefighters battled the blaze, which was fueled by strong winds, for weeks before they managed to bring it under full containment on Nov. 7. By then, the inferno had consumed 77,758 acres.

Amid their fight, they also managed to serve Thomsen a minor miracle.

As the firemen arrived at Thomsen's residence to fight the flames that had already burned the home beyond saving, they took a crucial three minutes to salvage personal items, family keepsakes and irreplaceable treasures off shelves and walls before beginning their work. Outside of the burning home, they stored the items in a secured location on the property.

Firemen from Ophir Hill Fire Department served Jeff Thomsen a miracle as they saved his treasured family mementos from the Kincade Fire. (ABC News)

Those first minutes would have been important moments for the firefighting crew to begin battling the blaze, but Captain John Nelson and firefighters Andrew Fike and Brian Harms took the calculated risk. Those three minutes of care saved centuries of memories.

"I thought of it as my house," Nelson said. "We would want the pictures on the walls."

Photos of Jeff Thomsen's family and late wife Laurie were salvaged thanks to the efforts of the Ophir Hill Fire Department. (ABC News)

Thomsen, likewise, greatly treasured the items they saved. Many belonged to his wife, Laurie, who passed away in 2009.

Jeff Thomsen recounts the personal treasures firefighters saved that remind him of his late wife as he talks with ABC News reporter Wayne Freedman. (ABC News)

"It was just above and beyond," Thomsen said.

Among the items saved was a 200-year-old Bible, family photos on the walls and a box containing recipes that belonged to Laurie.

A box grabbed by the Ophir Hill Fire Department firefighters before they began putting out the fire contained Jeff's late wife Laurie's recipes. (ABC News)

"This is the box on the shelf, and they grabbed it," Thomsen said. "Like my son said, it's just stuff but this is important."

Firefighting efforts throughout the state continue even as the blaze has reached 100% containment this week. Since igniting on Oct. 23, at least four firefighters were injured battling the Kincade Fire.

Nearly 200,000 people were forced to evacuate because of the blaze, and the precautions proved worthwhile as no lives were lost. Evacuation orders were lifted and residents were allowed to return home on Tuesday.

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