Wait over for relatives, friends of Pilot Hill husband, wife who died in house fire

Burned bodies identified by El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office coroner
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - The wait is over for relatives and friends of a Pilot Hill couple now identified as the two victims of a house fire.

The fire destroyed a 111-year-old home Nov. 18 in the 4500-block of Salmon Falls Road, near Highway 49. But identification of the two burned bodies found inside was delayed until after dental records could make a positive match.

El Dorado County Sheriff’s Sgt. James Byers said Monday that the bodies were identified as the occupants of the house, husband-and-wife John Steven “Steve” Cook, 67, and 65-year-old Steve Etta “Stevie” Stephens.

James Stephens, a brother of “Stevie” Stephens, said his sister suffered from dementia and was barely able to walk. Her husband was caring for her in the home, which had been in the siblings’ family since it was built around the turn of the 19th century, he said.

The Stephenses had lived in Soldotna, Alaska, before moving to the single-story house six years ago. A beautician, Stevie had relocated from California to Alaska on her own after the death of her previous husband, James Stephens said.

“She loved life and was adventurous,” James Stephens said. “For a single woman to hook her car onto an 18-inch trailer and tow it by herself to Alaska to settle and live was pretty amazing.”

Cook was a retired electrician, who met and married “Stevie” in Alaska.

“They were both elderly and had medical conditions,” James Stephens said. “But they both loved one another and enjoyed life. Probably eight out of 10 men would have put her in a home.”

Byers said there are no indications that the fire was anything but a tragic accident. The cause of the fire and origin were being investigated by the El Dorado County Fire District.

“Stevie” Stephens graduated from Tracy High School in 1965. The warmer weather and the availability of the family home after her parents moved into a care facility spurred the couple’s move to Pilot Hill.

The home was built about 1901 by Stevie’s great-great-grandfather Francisco Costa on land purchased the year before for $10 in gold coin. The house used timbers salvaged from a Gold Rush-era mercantile store, James Stephens said.

The fire drew engines from four El Dorado County Fire District stations, including a crew from Cool that arrived seven minutes after the initial 6 p.m. 911 call. A neighbor, Bob Laliberte, said flames rose 100 feet in the air.

Dwayne Schulz, a neighbor and friend, attempted to reach the two but the blaze quickly engulfed the home and turned him back after he’d kicked in a door.

“At first, I thought it was just a woodstove,” Schulz said. “But it was too far gone by that time. There was nothing I could do. They were both awesome people.”

A graveside service and celebration of life for “Stevie” Stephens is planned for a date yet to be announced in Ripon. Cook is to be buried in Texas.