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UPDATE: Tuolumne County Evacuees Head Home as Crews Slow Growth of Washington Fire

TUOLUMNE COUNTY (KPIX) -- Another wildfire that caused tense moments for residents in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Tuolumne County Thursday has since subsided, with some evacuees getting a chance to return home Friday.

Sonora is like many small California cities tucked in the foothills: it's old and surrounded by wildlands with very few roads leading in or out of many areas. People who live here know the risk. That risk surfaced during the Washington Fire Thursday.

"We had five minutes," says Lori Welsh, who had to evacuate her house in Jamestown. "We grabbed all of our birds, our cat, our kitten, our two dogs."

With several fires burning not far from her home, Welsh had a feeling trouble was coming. A suspicion she shared with her husband just a few days ago.

"I just told him, I said, 'You know, we've got to be ready to bug out,'" Welsh remembered. "He says, 'It's a ways away from us.' And I said, 'Yeah, but something is coming. Something is coming.'"

It happened Thursday afternoon, with the Washington Fire breaking out in the hills just beyond Sonora.

"You know, we would see it getting worse and worse," said Marianne Wright of Sonora. "Then, pretty soon, you could tell people were starting to panic. And then the traffic got really crowded. If everybody leaves at once, it seems like it would be difficult to get out of town."

Getting out of town in one direction became impossible when Highway 108 had to become a firebreak. And while the flames were stopped yesterday was exactly the kind of scenario people have been worrying about as fire has marched across California. Sonora is just one more community living with that risk.

"You know, we have a lot of overgrown areas around Sonora," said Tony Barajas. "We're just really setting ourselves up for a fire. And we've seen what happened in Paradise."

"Seeing what has happened in other cities and small towns, and us being near the forest." Wright said. "In the past I felt much safer, but now I feel like no matter how good the firefighters are, we're not guaranteed safe."

Cal Fire officials said the Washington Fire had held at approximately 81 acres since Thursday night. It remains about 10 percent contained.

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