New house ready by anniversary of fire
The statue remained, the base broken yet not burnt. A small figurine of a boy on his knees praying, given to Jolaine Johnson by her grandmother, was the only personal possession left by the blaze that destroyed the Johnson’s house.
“I guess that’s some sign,” Jolaine said.
The Johnsons- Jolaine, her husband Jay, and their three sons, Kelly, 15, Andy, 14, and Jonathan, 10- moved into their new home almost three weeks ago.
The house isn’t quite finished and the landscaping still needs to be done, but the Johnsons were anxious to get moved in.
The new house was built on the same lot where the old one stood because Jolaine said, “It’s beautiful here.”
“It’s pretty, and we like the area,” Jay added.
When the fire started June 23, 1996, the family was in the Bay area. They were unaware of the fire until they drove into the Valley on Highway 88 and saw the mountain side ablaze.
Jolaine said they were not allowed near the area and had to wait and wonder about their home and their pets.
“We were worried about our dogs,” she said.
Once the family was able to return to the site, a neighbor told them he let the dogs out of the house, and they ran away. The animals came back unharmed.
“It’s changed everything,” Jolaine said. “We had to learn that things have their place. People are what’s important.”
Firefighters told the Johnsons their house was on fire, but the blaze had been extinguished. The crews had headed towards Genoa, and the fire turned back around and took the house this time.
“It was pretty devastating to lose the house,” Jolaine said. But, she adds, it was also important no one was hurt.
Now, they have what could be called their dream home, Jay said.
The family reminds each other that they are all still together.
“We remind them (their sons) we are all OK and we are still together,” Jolaine said.
“They also really appreciate the help we got.When we lost our house, the community was incredible. It makes you realize that this is the kind of place you want to live. These people took care of the people.
“I can’t tell you the gifts we received. It was wonderful.”
“You learn who your friends are and who are the people that will help you,” Jay said.
The Johnsons have not been contacted by the boys who admitted starting the fire, and they are not looking for an apology.
“We didn’t blame those boys for what happened here,” Jolaine said. “Nature took this fire. They just made a stupid mistake.”
The Johnsons were covered well by insurance so they did not take any money raised by the Autumn Hills fire relief committee. They said there were others who deserved it more.
As the Johnsons began putting their lives back together, many wonder what it was that gave them the strength to continue.
“Again, it has to be the people. Not only physically with our basic needs, but emotionally, they were there,” Jolaine said.
“It’s the people here that make it a great place to live.”
With tears in her eyes, Jolaine would like to say to the community, “Thank you. Thank you for everything.”
Even with the new house, a bit of old still remains. Besides the statue, trees in the front yard stand tall. They were damaged by the fire, but are still alive and strong, much like the Johnsons themselves.