She made it out of the Camp Fire, only to die while swimming with daughter at reservoir

Stephanie Modena embraces her daughter, Ariana, in this undated photography provided by family.
Stephanie Modena embraces her daughter, Ariana, in this undated photography provided by family.

Stephanie Modena escaped last fall’s devastating Camp Fire in Butte County, her sister said, only to lose her life while enjoying a day with her daughter and other family members at Woodward Reservoir.

Modena, 34, died in the water Wednesday near Muir Point, a campsite area at the southern edge of the reservoir north of Oakdale. She was swimming out to an island with her 10-year-old daughter, Ariana, when she began having trouble.

“My niece said they were swimming to the island and when they were right where the water gets really deep ... her mom started having a panic attack and then she just stopped breathing and started going under the water, “ Cortney Kenna Modena told The Bee on Thursday. Ariana was able to pull her mother back up and out of the water, her aunt said.

Emergency responders arrived to find people performing lifesaving measures, but Modena was confirmed dead at about 3 p.m.

Modena, an Escalon resident, according to her Facebook page, was from Modesto and went to Davis High. She studied early childhood education at Butte College in Oroville and was living in Butte County when the wildfire consumed more than 150,000 acres in November.

“My sister started getting anxiety and panic attacks really bad since right after the Camp Fire,” said Cortney Modena, also an Escalon resident. “We are survivors of the Camp Fire. ... We both lost everything and barely made it out of our neighborhood before it was completely engulfed in flames!”

Another Modena sister, Kristina, said Stephanie suffered medical issues for a long time, including pulmonary hypertension and a heart condition. It appears, she said, that between the shortness of breath and the panic attack while trying to reach the island, “the stress was just too much on her heart and it shut down.”

Cortney Modena called Stephanie a loving, caring person who would help out total strangers when she could. “She loved helping animals, as well as spending time with her daughter and doing crafts.”

A gofundme page, titled “Memorial/funeral costs for Stephanie Modena,” was set up by family Thursday.

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Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.