COLLINSVILLE — Rose Papetti Curreri remembers when her town burned down more than 75 years ago. The Collinsville native was only about 12 when flames hopped over the shingled roofs of the small Delta community in the 1930s.
“The same property burned,” she said.
The 90-year-old watched history repeat itself, Friday, as a wind-swept fire tore through several homes on the Fourth of July.
“This one, it was all red flames and a lot of smoke,” she said. ” . . . The smoke was really black, and it was up high – and it sure was hot.”
The summer home of Curreri, who was spending the weekend with family, was spared. But her neighbors weren’t so lucky. The fire was quick to work its way over several homes, boats and vehicles, leaving residents cleaning up Saturday.
“(There was) more damage now than there was a long time ago,” Curreri said.
Ruth Baldetta lost everything, including her dogs and kittens. The home she shared with her son, his wife and their two young children was reduced to charred rubble.
“It’s all gone,” she said.
The family wasn’t home when the fire broke out Friday afternoon. Baldetta was running an errand out of town and the others were on a boat trip when she got a call from her neighbor reporting that a fire was burning a nearby house.
‘They said, ‘Yours is probably next.’ But I couldn’t make it over here in time to get my dogs,” Baldetta said. “That’s what I wanted, was my dogs.”
Montezuma Fire Protection District Chief Joe Rosewall said he thought Baldetta was in the house when he broke down her door during the fire.
“We got there, smashed the front door in, but the heat was so heavy in there, and the smoke was so heavy in there, that we couldn’t go inside,” he said.
Fire crews were dispatched at 1:30 p.m., and when they arrived one structure was already involved, Rosewall said.
“It moved through there real quick, the wind was pretty strong there at that time,” he said.
Rosewall said winds of about 15 to 20 mph helped spread the fire, and after about 30 minutes most of the damage was already done. He said the fire totally destroyed eight homes and damaged three. The damage estimate is $2.5 million.
About 25 people were displaced, he said, and the American Red Cross stepped in to help. No firefighters or residents were injured.
“The only (lives) that were lost were pets, dogs, cats, birds, fish, guinea pigs,” he said.
Baldetta lost two Chihuahuas, birds and four kittens. Her son also had three dogs that died in the house, but the goats and chickens on the property were spared.
“Some of those people lost everything they had except what they had on their back,” Rosewall said.
There are only about 20 homes in Collinsville with a few vacancies, so the blaze practically wiped out half of the town along the Sacramento River that carries a tradition of fishing and the fame of Joe DiMaggio’s one-time residence.
“Everybody here knows everybody,” said Barbara Fischer, Baldetta’s daughter.
Fischer was helping her family comb through the rubble, Saturday, but there wasn’t much that could be salvaged. While Baldetta stood near some melted record albums, one of her daughters uncovered what was left of the grandchildren’s piggy bank.
Fischer was trying to hold back the tears.
“(Mother’s) motto is, “Never get attached to material things . . . but it’s the memories we lost,” she said.
“That’s what’s good about a brain,” Baldetta said. “You have memories.”
The family wasn’t allowed to return to the property until Saturday when they would see what was left of the old home that had been in the Baldetta family for generations.
“We kind of knew what to expect, but, still, it’s so heartbreaking when you see it up front, close . . . personal,” said Fischer, who lives in Lodi.
“It is, but I expected it,” Baldetta said. “I’ve already accepted it, what can I do?”
“The only thing is the dogs,” said Fischer. “That’s the very saddest part.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Reach Adrienne Harris at 427-6956 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aharrisdr.