Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Notes of gratitude at Starbucks

Posted @ 6:29 PM

At the Starbucks Coffee shop inside the local Albertsons in Fallbrook, numerous notes of gratitude from firefighters and other emergency workers reveal one reason for their stamina.

"Starbucks Fallbrook!! You guys are the real heroes. You saved us so we may save others! ST 6017A Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire."

Last week, from Wednesday through Sunday, the Starbucks in Albertsons at 1133 S. Mission Road handed out free coffee to "anyone in a uniform," said Brianna Roth, an 18-year-old Starbucks employee. Roth and her co-workers also carried cups of coffee and thermoses to area checkpoints. The grocery store gave out muffins and sandwiches, Roth said.

Some of the coffee was supported by local patrons who bought gift cards and left them on the counter for firefighters to use.

The numerous notes, penned on slips of paper and brown Starbucks paper bags, were effusive.

"Thank you so much for taking care of us!" wrote a group of firefighters from Ukiah, Fort Bragg, Eureka, Laytonville and South Lake County.

"This is a very kind gesture. Thank you," wrote firefighters from Meeks Bay Fire Dept. at Lake Tahoe, which suffered a devastating wildfire this summer.

Firefighters from Deadwood Camp in Siskiyou County, Fremont, Alameda County and the city of Alameda, Berkeley, Livermore, Pleasanton, Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno, Yosemite, Vista, Camp Pendleton, Rancho Santa Fe and other places all stopped at the Starbucks during last week's fires.

"You guys are awesome! Thanks for keeping us awake on patrol," wrote one Sheriff's deputy.

On Oct. 26, a man named John Hays stopped in and wrote: "It has been an honor to help you folks."

Roth and her co-workers said many firefighters refused to accept coffee for free, and donated money for a fund being raised for an Albertsons worker who lost his home.

Amid all the notes posted by emergency crews, a woman named Kathryn D. left her own simple message:

"Thank you for saving our home," she wrote. "God bless you all."

- Bruce Lieberman, staff writer

Special kids come through for fire victims

Posted @ 1:19 PM

We got this email from Bernie Colon and wanted to share it:

"My mother is a 'Special Needs' teachers assistant at Rancho Bernardo High School. She and her group work with severely handicapped children at the school. She and her kids have been diligently working all school year collecting/recycling cans at the school to have money for their social events (Halloween, Christmas etc.) They saved up approximately $75 this time and were going to use it for their Halloween party.

"However, when they returned to school after the fires they decided as a group to use the money for two things. They spent some of the money to buy baking goods so they could make cookies for the Firefighters and Police Officers who helped out during the fires. They also presented both groups with a home made thank you banner signed by each child. The class then donated the remaining money to the school's fire victims fund to help the families who lost their houses during the fire.

"I think this shows just how special these kids and their teachers truly are. It is rare these days to see someone at that age so willing to give up hard earned money (that was slated for a party) so they could say thank you to those who helped and give to those who are less fortunate."

- Tom Mallory, U-T Breaking News Team

Another bump in the road for 4S Ranch family

Posted @ 12:47 PM

When will Scott Slade ever be able to go home?

Slade hasn't been back to his 4S Ranch home since Jan. 3, when he suddenly collapsed and within two weeks became totally paralyzed. His wife, Kathy, was so stressed that she went into premature labor with their twin daughters.

For months Slade had been receiving specialized care at a Denver rehab center, and Oct. 9 was supposed to be his homecoming. But as contractors retrofitted the family's house for disabled access, they found toxic mold, especially dangerous to those with weakend immune systems.

Kathy and her babies fled to the Radisson Hotel in nearby Rancho Bernardo, where Scott stayed while hazardous materials experts scrubbed their house.

But when the fires began last week, Scott Slade, who uses a ventilator to breathe, had to be evacuated to Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego.

A day later Kathy Slade was evacuated from their 4S Rancho home that was threatened by the Witch Fire, and she packed up the twins yet again and checked into a hotel downtown. Another bump in the rocky road for the Slade family.

"It was a nightmare. I told Scott this is longest homecoming ever," said Kathy, an executive with Cricket wireless company.

Since the fires she's bought air purifiers for their house and scrubbed down the walls trying to clear out the ash and fumes. They're hoping Scott will finally get home this weekend. Meanwhile Kathy plans to take Samantha and Stephanie, dressed as pumpkins, out to trick-or-treat for their first Halloween tonight and e-mail the pictures to Scott in the hospital.

- Lisa Petrillo, staff writer

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Elegant Dinner for Firefighters

Posted @ 9:04 PM

Firefighter Ben Vernon was delighted as he stood on the lawn by the marina where the air smelled of grilling steaks at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina.

He and his crew at Station 8, at Mission Hills, were planning to order pizza for dinner. Then, word reached them about 6 p.m. that chefs from Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide were preparing San Diego Fire-Rescue Department firefighters an elegant dinner of grilled steaks, shrimp and fish.

"This is awesome," said Vernon, who was in on duty in Rancho Bernardo last week.

Some arrived off-duty with their families, and some were there on dinner break. Some rolled up in fire rigs.

Chief Tracy Jarman was there mingling and greeting firefighters, telling a group of them, "You guys made me proud out there."

Chefs from various hotels were in town and arranged with Starwood to treat the firefighters, Jarman said.

More help for Fallbrook residents

Posted @ 4:37 PM

FALLBROOK … At Fallbrook's local assistance center for fire victims, volunteers put up two additional tents today to more efficiently accept applications for aid and issue electronic benefits cards, which allow people to buy food.
In the tents, they were able to set up 20 additional computers to register people for aid, bringing the total number of computers available to about 30, said Carey Riccitelli of the county's Health & Human Services Agency.
An estimated 525 families showed up yesterday. But because of the overwhelming demand for help, not everyone could be processed.
"We're seeing way more people today than we could previously," Riccitelli said.
Parking in front of the local assistance center was more restricted today because La Paloma Elementary School, across the street, is scheduled to reopen tomorrow. Volunteers were parking at a local church and being driven to the center in a county van and a school bus.
The center, at 341 Heald Lane, will remain open for four weeks, Riccitelli said. Hours of operation are from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information, call (760) 731-7139.
- Bruce Lieberman, staff writer

Governor arrives in Fallbrook

Posted @ 2:39 PM

FALLBROOK - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made an unannounced and private visit to the Valley Oaks Mobile Ranch off Reche Road in Fallbrook at about 10 a.m. today.

He toured the area and spoke to residents about the memories lost in their destroyed homes.

- Bruce Lieberman, staff writer

Cleaning up in Dulzura

Posted @ 10:56 AM

The backcountry community of Dulzura was quiet yesterday and its only businesses -- a cafe, a craft shop and the Post Office along state Route 94 -- were still closed.

Across the street from the Dulzura Cafe, Martha and Juan Garcia were cleaning up the property where they live. The trailer they've called home for six years was destroyed by the Harris fire. The couple has been staying with family in El Cajon for more than a week but got their first look at the mangled trailer, blackened by flames and filled with dirt ash and leaves, yesterday.

The property owner, Cecilia Mendoza, rents land to the couple and another family. Their homes were still standing.

Sitting at a concrete picnic table while her husband and neighbors raked up leaves and debris, Martha Garcia said she only took her purse and personal papers when she fled Oct. 21. Gomez speaks only a little English so Maricruz Pulido, whose family also lives on the property, translated.

"The thing that broke her heart the most was the pictures of her grandsons" were lost, Pulido said. "She's overwhelmed. She's just trying to make her mind think that she'll have a house soon."

The Garcia and Pulido families say they love the quiet, peaceful life they've made in Dulzura. Despite the scare they've had in the last week, they don't plan to leave.

"Some people say, 'Why are you going to stay right there if it's dangerous for you?' " said Herminia Pulido, Maricruz Pulido's mother. "I just love it here."

- Liz Neely, staff writer

Determined to rebuild in Deerhorn Valley

Posted @ 10:44 AM

Among the only unscathed possessions at Frieda Williams' Deerhorn Valley home Monday was a bottle of organic salsa.

Surrounded by rocky, burned out hillsides high in the backcountry, Williams' home looked like the scene of an explosion, its contents spilled across the driveway. Along with the salsa, there were shriveled up plastic bottles of iced tea and blackened soda cans. The taillight on her pick up truck had melted, and one of its windows popped out.

Williams, 52, a nurse, didn't touch anything for safety reasons. So there she stood, with a couple of insurance agents, near her cracked, decimated five-bedroom home, relying on her memories of what was once there. Hers was one of dozens of homes destroyed in this rural community last week.

In a way, it was easier for Williams to list what was left: her dogs, her other car, a few T-shirts, jeans and pairs of underwear.

"What can you do?" she asked. "Either you go down or you survive and get a better life."

The piles of debris continued to give off heat, as if it was baking at a low temperature.

"It takes a while to cool down," said Mike Mohler, a Cal Fire spokesman standing with Williams. "Like a big brick oven, it stays warm for a while."

Williams pointed to a surviving photo showing what her home looked like up until just eight days ago.

"I'm going to rebuild," Williams said. "And I want it to look just like that...'cause I have to say, I really liked my house."

- Michele Clock, staff writer

Monday, October 29, 2007

Dulzura couple return to find home intact

Posted @ 4:59 PM

DULZURA - James and Cora Kyser, who have lived in their home on Barrett Lake Road for 30 years, dug a hole Saturday when they returned home and buried everything from their refrigerator.

"Milk, butter, eggs, meat," Cora Kyser said, "it was all bad.

Kyser said they had been eating canned food from their shelves as well as bread and apples given to them by the Red Cross.

Kyser, who has a ministry in Mexico, said she had had only a glass of water and a piece of a bagel by 2 p.m. Monday. She said, "I'm not hungry. I'm OK."

Kyser was more concerned with cleaning up. She and her husband worked most of the day sweeping up debris. She placed a few gallons of water in the sun and was getting ready to use them to bathe.

The couple raised their children at the home and said they weren't going to let the fire scare them.

"I trust the Lord to keep us, and he did," Kyser said. "It burned all along the mobile home park and onto our property, but our house made it. I wasn't afraid."
-Janine Zuniga

Groups helping Barrett Lake residents

Posted @ 4:52 PM

DULZURA … On Barrett Lake Road in Dulzura, residents whose mobile homes survived the Harris fire were receiving help Monday from the Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and various church groups, including Crosspointe Life Church in La Mesa.

"We have a list of places, and we're going through the list and getting people cleaning supplies, gloves, masks," said Barry Sappington, lead pastor at the church. "We're here to do what we can."

Yvette Montes, manager of the Barrett Lake Mobile Home Park, which was filled with charred trees, trucks and trailers, said they were hoping for a generator to get power to the 33 of 83 mobile homes that were not destroyed.

"With no power, there's no way to run the wells," Montes said. "We have a lot of seniors. Some have been here for 20, 25 years. We need a generator."

Montes said many of the residents can't afford a home, but most are hardworking families.

"We're a community. Everybody knows everybody and takes care of everybody," Montes said.

Robert Solorzano and his family crossed the border at Tecate for the first time since it was reopened earlier today to check on his trailer, which survived.

"We didn't know it was saved until yesterday, but we didn't see it until today," said his wife, Evelia Solorzano. "We were happy to see it."

Most of the residents in the area are still without power. Most have had to throw away everything in their refrigerators and freezers.

Mantha Carter, 76, said she keeps running out of ice, and finally had to get rid of some raw chicken she had tried to save.

"Without electricity, we've used flashlights and candles, and we go to bed early," Carter said.

Many displaced residents were given five-day vouchers for hotels around the county, but many expire Tuesday. Montes said the vouchers were being extended, but residents had to call Campesinos Unidos at (858) 278-0128.

FEMA officials urged residents to apply for aid regardless of whether their property was burned. Nancy Weikel Dae with FEMA said most mobile home park residents are not insured, so FEMA could help them.
- Janine Zuniga

Crews clear trees, check power poles in Dulzura

Posted @ 4:35 PM

DULZURA -Maintenance crews with the county of San Diego were clearing trees from Barrett Lake Road in Dulzura and assessing damaged trees Monday.

Further down the road, SDG&E workers were checking poles that had burned and replacing them, hoping to get power back on for Dulzura residents as soon as possible.

Officially, SDG&E told residents that power should be back on by Nov. 7. As with the telephone poles along Barrett Lake Road, it was hit-and-miss for homes as well. One home on top of a large mesa, with a white Spanish-style design, was untouched, but at least three nearby homes were completely destroyed, including one that had a stack of new red roof tiles sitting nearby unscathed.

Fire damaged nearly every building on the last property before hitting the lake. Two horses and SDG&E workers appeared to be the only living things in sight. At least three bridges leading to homes on the other side of a dry riverbed along Barrett Lake Road, which alternated between dirt and asphalt, were burned.
-Janine Zuniga

Seemed like a hot idea at the time ...

Posted @ 11:14 AM

Last year, when City Ballet was groping for an appropriate theme for its 15th anniversary opening performance, it hit upon a hot one: Ballet on Fire.

After last week, the ballet's promoters are hoping that the public can see the irony in the name.

And when all is said and done, it is a pretty hot program this Saturday and Sunday:

"Ballet On Fire" includes dances choreographed to The Firebird and Stravinsky Suites, Flames of Paris Pas de Deux, and Spartacus Pas de Deux. The program will conclude with George Balanchine's famous George Gershwin ballet "Who Cares?"

Performances will be at the Joan B. Kroc Performing Arts Center, 6611 University Ave., San Diego -- Saturday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 4 at 2 p.m.

For details

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Governor praises firefighting efforts

Posted @ 2:21 PM

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger greeted volunteers this afternoon at the local assistance center at Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego. He toured the facility, shaking hands with volunteers and people who had been evacuated.

In brief remarks, Schwarzenegger praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the county's Office of Emergency Services and all firefighters. He said he was "extremely impressed with our team so far."

He also repeated warnings that anyone who commits fraud will be prosecuted.

"If anyone uses this situation to commit fraud, they will regret it for the rest of their life," Schwarzenegger said.

- Tanya Mannes

Friday, October 26, 2007

She chooses not to pass the buck

Posted @ 4:15 PM

Editor’s note: The following story was written by user Kristin Kidney, who on Wednesday chose to stop and make a difference in the midst of the wildfire chaos:

By Kristin Kidney

While driving to work on Wednesday at 5:30 a.m., I came upon a young buck resting in the road.
It appeared as though in his travels from the fires he was hit by a car. As a result he only had 1/2 of his right ear, his right eye suffered a blow and was weeping and obviously had an injured spot on it. He had a scrape to his right shoulder and a few other small hairless spots but, to his luck, no broken bones.

There isn't much a person can do on their own, given the devastation of the fires here in San Diego this past week, but I knew this little guy needed help.

He let me pick him up and as I reached to open the jeep door (which I should have unlocked and opened before I picked him up!) he seemed to have decided maybe he shouldn't have let me pick him up. He began struggling to get away from me.

Fearful I may drop him and further injure him or have him get away from me I tried to set him down gently without letting go. He was determined to get away and put up quite a struggle.

As a last resort to not let go of him while trying to get my car door open I got a hold of his right rear ankle and held on tight.

Mind you I am dressed up and on my way to work.

After a brief struggle I got the deer through the side door of my jeep Cherokee where he immediately jumped into the back.

As I drove to work with the deer in my car, I called my favorite radio station to find out where I could take the deer for medical attention.

What I found was even though getting the deer into my car on my own was a challenge, finding someone qualified to provide medical care and a safe environment for this guy might be even more challenging!

We were and still are in a state of emergency with the fires in the state and the individual who volunteers for wildlife rescue who would normally take this type of animal had lost their property to the

I received a call from an individual with the game and fish department who said that if the deer could walk away from an incident, the great -- and if not, it would be destroyed.... not an option as far as I was concerned.

After hearing wildlife rescue couldn't help I left my phone number and asked them to call if they came up with a solution.

I then tried calling the radio station again. The phone just rang and rang. I checked the time and much to my dismay it was 10 a.m, the time the morning DJ crew was due to leave for the day! I had to resort to Plan B and call another local station for help.

After speaking to them and receiving suggestions of The Helen Woodward Center which had been evacuated on Monday; Wildlife Rescue which I knew already couldn't help me; and Oceanside Animal Shelter. I decided Oceanside was my only hope for help.

As I began driving to Oceanside I received a phone call from the San Diego Wildlife Rescue people who said a wonderful vet by the name of Dr. Todd Cecil at the Pet Emergency & Specialty Center in La Mesa would be willing to take the deer and arrangements had been made for care after Dr. Cecil provided care.

All I needed to do was drive to La Mesa to drop the deer off.

Sure enough, the staff at the Specialty Center was expecting us when I arrived. Dr. Cecil came out to my vehicle to receive the deer.

I think he was surprised to find the deer wasn't "Bambi" the little tiny deer with white spots. He was in fact 40-50 pounds and able to stand on his own and looked pretty good considering his ordeal.

Dr. Cecil carried the deer into the facility; I signed a release form and asked for an update call later in the day -- after thanking Dr. Cecil for his generosity.

I did in fact receive a call from him to let me know a volunteer from
Project Wildlife had picked up the deer and he was on his way to Malibu for rehab.

A happy ending for this deer during a time of disaster and sad stories.

------ ------ -------- --------

Postscript: In a phone call today, Dr. Todd Cecil said that the deer was a mule deer, probably less than one year old. It is “highly unusual” for a deer to remain so docile when handled by a human.

When Dr. Cecil came out to retrieve the animal from the Jeep, “the little deer was just lying down, not responsive.” The veterinarian said the deer had small abrasions, dehydration and some head trauma. On the plus side, it stood up on its own legs.

After some treatment for dehydration the deer regained some of its spunkiness “and I have the bruises to prove it,” said Dr. Cecil with a chuckle.

Normally the deer would have been sent to the local Project Wildlife deer recovery facility, in East County. “Unfortunately it was burned down in the fires,” he said.

Dr,Cecil said he has not heard anything since the deer was sent to the Malibu recovery center but he feels optimistic about its chances for recovery.

-- Bob Hawkins for

Helpful Dulzura and Barrett Junction residents

Posted @ 2:33 PM

Dulzura and Barrett Junction survivors of the Harris fire stood ready yesterday to help other survivors of the inferno that swept East County.

Those who stuck it out with few supplies and without water and electricity gathered at the Barrett Junction Cafe this morning ready to help those who had been evacuated, people who will come home to nothing but devastation.
Jayapala Sirimanne lost his Dulzura home in the fire, yet was ready to pitch in to help his neighbors. Wearing the same sooty clothing that he had warn for days, Sirimanne said he would do whatever he could to lend a hand.

"I lost, yes, but others lost more," he said. "So you see, I have to be here to help."

These people have a hard-edged independent streak.

"We don't need a government to help," said Tom LaVera, a resident of Barrett Junction. "We can take care of our own,"

Yet these people display a compassion for neighbors who will come back to nothing.

"We will meet the needs of our people," said Brian Batting, also of Barrett Junction. "Whatever they need we will provide."

At the end of breakfast at the cafe, Don Magoffin called for everyone's attention.

The people whose eyes turned to Magoffin were those who stayed behind in the face of the flames and in defiance of evacuation orders. Magoffin ticked off what was needed: volunteers to help open the fire station where the showers worked, transport animal feed from nearby Portrero, and help the Red Cross.

"We all have to pitch in," he said. "Together we can get through this."

- David Hasemyer, staff writer

Firefighters get rub-downs

Posted @ 1:30 PM

In Rancho Santa Fe, Village Community Presbyterian Church is serving as a ground zero of sorts for firefighters and rescue workers.
They are sleeping there and eating there -- and Friday, they even got massages there, courtesy of a volunteer masseuse, reports Bibbi Conner at the church.
- Sandi Dolbee, staff writer

Agitated animals aggravate agents

Posted @ 12:54 PM

They face challenges every day but dealing with frightened animals during the wildfire crisis proved a bit daunting for even the most seasoned Border Patrol agents who rescued some 136 animals during the wildfire crisis.

One agent was bit on the finger by a parrot, another was dragged down the road by a donkey and another had to deal with a frightened goat that kept spitting water from a bucket as the agent tried to save it.

The menagerie also includes horses, dogs, cats, a potbellied pig, a steer and even a llama.

The agents, who are staged at the Lakeside Rodeo ground, used four Border Patrol trailers to rescue the pets.
Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Shawn Gisler reflected, "It wasn't always easy."

-Debbi Farr Baker, staff writer

Zagat waits

Posted @ 12:39 PM

Publishers of the Zagat Survey, a national rating of the nation’s top restaurants based on diners’ reviews, delayed publication of the 2008 San Diego guide after seeing news reports of the wildfires that threatened so many areas of North County.

Local Editor David Nelson said that with so many top tables like Mille Fleurs, Pamplemousse Grille, Market Restaurant + Bar and El Bizcocho in areas that were evacuated due to fire threat, Zagat wanted to make sure the restaurants were unharmed before going to press.

The guide will be published one week late, on December 3, Nelson said.

- Maria C. Hunt, staff writer

A new EMTs first week on the job

Posted @ 11:07 AM

Kate Leidiger's first week on the job certainly as been more eventful than expected. The 20-year-old Del Cerro resident was a brand new EMT with Rural Metro when the fires broke out.

Her first day on the job, she worked the frontline for more than 30 hours. But the grueling job wasn't without a few perks.

Within the first 18 hours of her shift, she had the chance to shake hands with Gov. Schwarzenegger. The next day, she met President Bush, who tucked her under his arm in an embrace.

At one point Kate; her mother, Judi Leidiger of Del Cerro, and Grandma Donna, who was visiting from Minnesota, were all down at Qualcomm Stadium to give blood.

Because her daughter is too busy right now, Judi phoned the Union-Tribune, in search of photos of Kate with the new dignitaries. Mom is so proud of her daughter, but not surprisingly, worried, too.

Judi, the advertising director of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, is very concerned that Kate and the firefighters could end up with permanent neurologic damage from carbon monoxide poisoning from the fire. She hopes they'll all take time out from their duties to get the necessary oxygen treatments.

Judi knows all about the health issues of fighting fires. The upcoming Decemeber issue of her magazine has a story entitled, "Lethal Exposure II."

- Marsha Kay Seff, staff writer

Thursday, October 25, 2007

From shelter back to stadium

Posted @ 10:53 PM

The impromptu party's over at Qualcomm Stadium.

"It's like a ghost town," said Charles Bradfield, a 48-year-old Ramona resident.

Bradfield sat alone tonight in Section 59, surrounded by a sea of empty seats. His wife, Kathering, and daughter, Jennifer, lay sleeping nearby.

Empty cots and piles of bedding were everywhere. Crews of workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency roamed together in small groups.

Some 12,000 people have sought shelter at the stadium since Monday, and tonight perhaps a couple hundred still remained. By noon Friday, they will all be gone, as the city of San Diego is relocates shelter services to the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

When the Bradfields arrived Wednesday, "It felt like a big block party," he said. There was food, donations, entertainment everywhere you turned, he said. Now, "it's a cold feeling," he said. "Like no one cares."

Empty cots and piles of bedding were everywhere. Crews of workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency roamed together in small groups. The loudest sound was the baseball game blaring from small televisions above the seats.

Evacuee Frederic Ponceau went home to Rancho Bernardo Thursday, but found he had no power. So the 43-year electrical engineer returned to the stadium to use his laptop computer.

He was surprised to see a fellow Rancho Bernardo resident had remained behind. "Your place is fine. You have power," Ponceau told the 83-year-old woman.

She had driven to the stadium on Monday, and was preparing to spend her fourth night there. She would decide Friday what to do. In the meantime, she had a question about her house.

"Is it still white?"

- Sandra Dibble, staff writer

Trying to return home

Posted @ 3:50 PM

RANCHO SANTA FE -- Ever hopeful, John Mirza parked his car on the shoulder of Via de la Valle near El Camino Real yesterday afternoon and walked toward the man in camouflage, standing next to the Hummer and behind the "Road Closed" sign.

He was hoping for permission to go home to his Whispering Palms condo, about two miles past the checkpoint, in the area between Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe. This was his second try in two days, and the answer this time was the same as the first one: No.

Mirza trudged back to the car, a look of resignation etched on his face. "Maybe tomorrow," he said.

He and his daughter Nancy and Nancy's granddaughter, Natasha, 5, were wearing the same clothes they had on when they evacuated the condo at about 6 a.m. Monday. "I didn't even take a razor," John said.

They went first to the shelter at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but after being moved twice to make room for other evacuees, they drove north to Carlsbad and got a hotel room.

Mirza is a retired executive with the Indiana-based Miles Laboratory, maker of Alka-Seltzer and other products. In 1977, he and his wife came out here on vacation and stayed at a friend's condo in Whispering Palms. "We fell in love with San Diego," John said. "We played golf in the morning and in the afternoon looked for a place to buy."

They bought a condo that year and moved in permanently after he retired in 1984. "I just love driving up the hill and seeing the golf course spread out before you," he said.

Mirza is fairly certain his home escaped the flames. After he was turned back at the road checkpoint the first time, on Tuesday afternoon, he went to Albertson's for supplies and ran into a neighbor. The neighbor somehow knew that Whispering Palms was OK.

Yesterday they were in the hotel watching television when it appeared to them from a map on the screen that the road might be open. They piled into the car, went there and parked behind a line of similarly optimistic evacuees. But it didn't matter what story they had for the guard.

"It's frustrating," Nancy said. "You see all these places around us being opened up and there doesn't seem to be any logic to it."

They said they were thankful they'd been able to find a hotel room. "I told the clerk this morning that we probably better hold on to it until Saturday," John said as he prepared to get in the car again. "Just in case."


Neighbor helps bury horse

Posted @ 3:43 PM

DULZURA - Bryant Hibbs, who has lived in the Jamul and Dulzura area
since 1976, helped a neighbor bury a horse Thursday that died the night

Hibbs, who lost a storage ship filled with tools in the fires that burned
through Monday, used his small John Deere tractor to drag the horse out of the
barn and into a grave dug by another neighbor.

He covered the large animal with dirt and some of the ash from the flames
that likely contributed to its death.

"I said a little prayer," Hibbs said. "I told God to take it. It's in his
hands now."

Yvonne Purdy-Luxton, who owns the property east of Community Building
Road with her uncles, said the horse, named Easy, was 28, and she wasn't sure
exactly why she died.

"I think it was smoke inhalation, but I'm not sure," she said. "She could
have died from the stress of the fires or of a heart attack."

Purdy-Luxton lost her home in the fire, the one she shared with her
16-year-old daughter. She said having eight of nine horses, 36 of 37 chickens,
and two of three homes survive on the property, "is great."

"I left with two pairs of jeans, some shirts, and a business suit," she
said. "Fortunately I keep legal documents, my jewelry and photos in backpacks.
I still lost a lot of old family stuff like pictures of my great-grandparents
and some antiques."

Purdy-Luxton said she was sad that Easy died, but she had other horses to
worry about. Several were coughing loudly and deeply.

- Janine Zuniga

Staying behind in Dulzura

Posted @ 3:06 PM

DULZURA - Roger Corkum and a 30-year Dulzura resident known only as "Biker
Tom" stayed behind after being ordered to evacuate Sunday.

On Thursday, both were driving a water truck house to house, making sure
animals left behind had water and food. They covered an area of Dulzura that
included Hatfield Road off Highway 94.

"That's the Velardi house," he said. "What's smoldering right there burned
to the ground."

Most of the homes along Hatfield Road survived, but at least three were
lost. Corkum estimated about 10 to 15 people stayed behind and all were taking
care of neighbors' homes and animals.

One of those people who stayed behind was Leon Herzog, owner of the
Barrett Junction Cafe, which survived the fire. Corkum said Herzog has
been providing free breakfast and dinner for anyone who shows up at 9 a.m. and
6 p.m.

Corkum's water truck was put to good use by three Tijuana firefighters -
Gustavo Rivera, Francisco Martinez Rangel and Roberto Perez - who were on
their second day fighting the Harris fire.

"We're staying at Gillespie Field at night but coming back here in the
day," Rivera said in Spanish. "There are still a lot of small fires."

The three firefighters were part of a group of 32 who had been putting out
those small fires along Highway 94. They put out a small fire at the Velardi
house today using water from Corkum's truck.

A trampoline was about the only item on the property untouched.

Corkum thanked the Tijuana firefighters.

"Very good," said Corkum as he patted Rivera on the back. "Thank you very

- Janine Zuniga

Ah, but what an ash ...

Posted @ 2:06 PM

File this under the category "Why are we not surprised?"

Ash purported to be from the San Diego wildfires is up for auction on eBay.

It claims to be not just ash "scooped from a pile of rubble" but ashes that fell from the sky in the midst of the firestorms.

The starting price is $9.30. The seller says that 50 percent of the final bid will be donated to the American Red Cross.

So far, there have been no takers. -- Debbi Baker

Postscript: As of 4 p.m. eBay had taken down the offer.

Firefighters are left to pick and poke

Posted @ 1:03 PM

The first round of mop-up has begun. And to Santa Barbara fire Capt. Bill Taff, the devastation at Barrett Lake Mobile Home Park is nearly beyond description.

"This is depressing," Taff said as he surveyed the rows of burned mobile homes.

There's little left of one portion of the park. What is left is burned and twisted, barely recognizable as a home.

Now that the Harris Fire is slowly dying away, the firefighters are left to pick and poke at what's left behind, checking for smoldering hotspots that could reignite and destroy those homes left standing.

The mobile home park was their first stop. The scene there, one of the first places evacuated Sunday, is all black and gray in tone and mood. "I can't imagine coming back to this," said Santa Barbara firefighter Dave Ward.

In one driveway are the blackened frames of small bicycles, a sign that some children have nothing to come home to. Stoves and refrigerators survived as burned-out hulks, resting wherever where they fell. Aluminum runs in bright frozen streams, and glass has melted like plastic. Yet it is apparent these firefighters were not the first one here. Flourescent green cards have been attached to blackened gates at each devastated site where a home once stood.

The message is not-so-subtly ironic: "This property was inspected for damage assessment by the County of San Diego."

-- David Hasemyer, staff writer

'Only thing I heard was 'How can I help you?' '

Posted @ 12:04 PM

Russian-born Adel Massarskaya effervesces about her American neighbors and friends. When she moved to La Jolla 11 years ago, she was thrilled how welleveryone treated her. Now, in the wake of the fire that chased her and her husband, Vladimir, from their new Carmel Valley apartment, she's waving the flag -- sometimes, literally.

“In La Jolla, the only thing I ever heard was how can I help you and what are neighbors for.”

Last week, former neighbors Lian and Richard Reed invited the Massarskayas to stay with them when fire threatened. “We returned home after two days; they wanted us to stay.”

Back in Carmel Valley, Adel found her voice-mail filled with concern from other neighbors wanting to help.

“Americans are wonderful. When I hear people saying something (negative), I'm absolutely indignant. I was so happy when we became citizens, absolutely. Maybe I've met the best of American people, maybe they all are.”.

It's a fact that in this time of crisis San Diegans have reached out to friends, neighbors and even strangers. With the help of e-mails, phones and cells, reaching arms have extended from as far away as Chicago, New York and Florida to Puerto Rico, Switzerland and beyond. Some callers hadn't reconnected with friends for years. Even though many are too far away to help physically, San Diegans say they are comforted by knowing others care.

Hilde Buchmann, a Swiss-born homeowner in Pacific Beach, says, “Oh my god, I've gotten dozens of e-mails and at least two dozen phone calls from friends and relatives in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. They wanted to know if we were OK. They certainly couldn't help from a distance, but at least they cared and worried about me and my husband, Walter. It made me feel good inside.

Victory Lareau of Mission Beach says her husband, Richard, was surprised to receive phone calls from two fellow graduate students from UC Berkeley. He graduated 50 years ago.

Elena and Bob Ortic of Rancho Bernardo returned from a brief stay at their son's house last week to an intact home and neighborhood. Elena was excited that a friend of 32 years, who has kept in touch only through Christmas cards, phoned from Florida to check on them. “In all these years, “we've only talked on the phone once.”

Paradoxically, Kathy Fackler, who lives in the village of La Jolla, says she's received more e-mails about the sink hole on Mount Soledad, than aboutthe fire.

Betty Wheelock of La Jolla has amassed about 15 e-mails and phone calls from friends and relatives around the country. She would agree with AdelMassarskaya. “Sometimes we're so criticized by the rest world. And it's so false, because the true American spirit, who we really are, certainly has surfaced in tragedy. I think this volunteerism is much part of our people and our culture and much to be very proud of.”

Safe in Mission Beach, Steve Reck says he's been sending more e-mails than he's received. “I want to see what people need, food or shelter. All I did was give blood.”

By Marsha Kay Seff
Eldercare Editor

Barrett Junction -- anger and relief over breakfast

Posted @ 11:18 AM

The smell of pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage signaled the opening of the Barrett Cafe this morning. As did the clanging cowbell hanging on the door when residents like Bob Davis and Julie Cisneros and their neighbors came in.

The cafe opened for the first time since the fire for the traditional Wednesday night fish fry. This morning, it was breakfast as usual -- but not completely as usual.

It was one of the first time neighbors had been able to get together since the fire scattered them on Sunday.

There was anger and relief at the cafe’s long tables.

Bob Davis lost his home, but still has his neighbors, whom he calls his best friends and his family.

“They have been offering all sorts of things,” he said as one after another came up to offer a handshake or a hug.

Cisneros was fortunate. The house she shared with her husband and four children survived.

“We were lucky,” she said, “lucky and blessed.”

Firefighters positioned themselves in her driveway as the Harris fire swept toward her four-bedroom house. She praised them for saving the house.

But Tom LaVera condemned the firefighters. He said they pulled out as the fire roared toward his home. His house survived in the end, but his anger lingers.

“My wife was in tears and pleading with them to stay and help us,” he said, “but they told her we gotta go.”

Cafe owner Leon Herzog opened his café when it occurred to him that a number of people had stayed behind.

”One by one, we started to realize there were a lot of us still around,” Herzog said.

Opening the cafe gave people a place to meet, to share news and needs.

From just outside the kitchen, Herzog surveyed those having breakfast and named the lucky and unlucky.

“Chuck lost his house. Bob over there, (his home is) gone,” he said.

Midway through breakfast, Romero Crawford called for everyone’s attention.

Crawford, who makes sure everyone knows to call him “Cowboy,” was organizing a trip to gather supplies and wanted to know what his neighbor needed. Because of his contacts, he had the promise of law enforcement that he could come and go.

He was given long list of medicines, food, toiletries, daily needs.

“We’re all coming together to help one another,” Crawford said. “We are all family here.”

--Dave Hasemyer, staff writer

Home again...for 10 minutes

Posted @ 8:43 AM

By 7 a.m., the line of Rancho Bernardo residents waiting for 10 minutes of access to the lives they left behind snaked the parking lkot of the community’s recreation center.

The Blankenships were one of the first families allowed in to the home on Coronado Place, one of the hardest-hit areas. Out of about a dozen homes on the cul-de-sac, only theirs and that of one neighbor were left.

In a rush, the family juggled looking around the home with collecting precious items – mom’s medication, 10-year-old daughter Katie’s violin and 13-year-old son Mike’s toys. They quickly surveyed the backyard, trying to figure out why their home survived while those of their neighbors were incinerated.

Maybe it was because they had removed the avocado trees and replace them with ice plant. Maybe the brick wall created a fire break. Or perhaps the firefighters removed combustible items from the back of the home.

When their time was up, they reluctantly got back into the family’s SUV, no knowing when they would see their home again.

“It’s going to take a couple of weeks to process all of this,” said Gregg Blankenship, the father.

--from Jose Luis Jimenez, staff writer

The fire's other victims

Posted @ 6:51 AM

This bobcat was spotted Wednesday evening off of Barrett Lake Road slowly making its way through the burned area gingerly stepping on its burnt paws. The highly elusive cat was clearly distressed and disoriented.

Photo by Union-Tribune photographer John Gibbins

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The world-famous San Diego fires

Posted @ 11:23 PM

Reporters from all over the world are reporting on the fires ravaging San Diego County.

Maurice Luque, spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, said journalists from Spain, Germany, France, Japan, Mexico, England and Al Jazeera network can be foundon the fire lines.

- Pauline Repard

At least one not comforted by governor

Posted @ 9:39 PM

While visiting evacuees at Steele Canyon High School tonight, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped to caress the cheek of 6-month-old Dominic Mora.

"Do you have everything you need?" he asked Dominic's mom, April Mora, who evacuated from Dulzura on Sunday.

Mora said the governor's visit makes her feel like he's concerned that everything possible is being done for the evacuees.

Dominic had a different take.

As soon as the governor stepped away from their encounter, Dominic started crying.

- Chris Moran

Fire chief touts good news in Escondido

Posted @ 9:34 PM

Escondido Fire Chief Vic Reed gave good news to city leaders tonight: calmer winds and statewide help to fight the massive Witch fire are working to slow its spread.

"This fire's laying down," Reed said. "We're going to see high humidity tomorrow."

A deep canyon area along the San Dieguito River bed is still of concern, near southeast Escondido, he said. But fire and city officials said they're still hopeful all city residents can return home soon.

The evacuated Mountain View and Hidden Trails areas could be reopened to Escondido residents as early as tonight or tomorrow morning.

The Witch Creek fire operations center set up at Kit Carson Park, however, will likely be there at least a week as firefighters keep battling the blaze.

- Elena Gaona

Governor visits Harris fire evacuees

Posted @ 9:23 PM

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's visit to evacuees of the Harris fire at Steele Canyon High School tonight qualified as a happening. Especially at a place where people have been sleeping on cots for three days.

Before the governor's news conference, a man on a cell phone exclaimed, "I just took a picture with Geraldo Rivera!" Evacuees then settled in next to the bank of cameras positioned for the news briefing.

The governor first toured part of the school. Evacuees and volunteers applauded his entry into a courtyard, where he rubbed the back of 2-year-old Aaron Medina and leaned in to within inches of his face.

Aaron was in the arms of his grandfather, Francisco Hidalgo, who evacuated his five-bedroom trailer on Lake Barrett Sunday and presumes it is lost.

Hidalgo said the governor warned him to beware of unscrupulous claims adjusters. Hidalgo said he didn't have the heart to tell Schwarzenegger that he didn't even have insurance.

- Chris Moran

Frustration road back to Ramona

Posted @ 7:52 PM

As of 7 p.m., dozens of Ramona residents had parked their cars, motorcycles and RVs at the blocked-off intersection of Scripps Poway Parkway and Highway 67, hoping California Highway Patrol officers would let them through.

Some, including Benjamin Spilman, said they are getting frustrating because they have spoken with neighbors in Ramona who say it is safe.

"I'm not hearing much from anybody except from people who had stayed," said Spilman, who had been at the desolate intersection since noon. "They say there's a little bit of smoke and that's it."

Spilman wanted to know what's keeping them from getting home.

CHP officer Ray Ayala from Stockton had been guarding the intersection since about 3 p.m. He said people have been waiting and getting impatient.

Ayala said he has not received orders to reopen the road but said he expected it could open by tomorrow. He said water service in Ramona remains incomplete and people can't return until it is fully restored.

Thirty-year Ramona resident Richard Lemire said he can't understand why residents of Rancho Bernardo, one of hardest hit areas by fire, are being allowed to return home while Ramona -- one of the most unscathed -- remains off-limits.

"We cooperated real well by evacuating and now we're getting really discouraged. It's obvious to everyone that Ramona is OK," Lemire said.

Many of those waiting have tried several different routes to get to Ramona -- each blocked by authorities.

With no restrooms available, many drove a few miles to a nearby Costco in Poway for food and bathroom breaks.

- Janine Zuniga

Ramona residents itchy to get home

Posted @ 7:34 PM

As of 7 p.m., dozens of Ramona residents had parked their cars, motorcycles and RVs at the blocked-off intersection of Scripps Poway Parkway and Highway 67, hoping California Highway Patrol officers would let them through.

Some, including Benjamin Spilman, said they are getting frustrating because they have spoken with neighbors in Ramona who say it is safe.

"I'm not hearing much from anybody except from people who had stayed," said Spilman, who had been at the desolate intersection since noon. "They say there's a little bit of smoke and that's it."

Spilman wanted to know what's keeping them from getting home.

CHP officer Ray Ayala from Stockton had been guarding the intersection since about 3 p.m. He said people have been waiting and getting impatient.

Ayala said he has not received orders to reopen the road but said he expected it could open by Thursday. He said water service in Ramona remains incomplete and people can't return until it is fully restored.

Thirty-year Ramona resident Richard Lemire said he can't understand why residents of Rancho Bernardo, one of the hardest hit areas by fire, are being allowed to return home while Ramona -- one of the most unscathed -- remains off-limits.

"We cooperated real well by evacuating and now we're getting really discouraged. It's obvious to everyone that Ramona is OK," Lemire said.

Many of those waiting have tried several different routes to get to Ramona -- each blocked by authorities.

With no restrooms available, many drove a few miles to a nearby Costco in Poway for food and bathroom breaks.

-- Janine Zuniga

Good Samaritan stories abound

Posted @ 6:25 PM

The Good Samaritan stories continue to abound.

The Rock Church in Point Loma has turned itself into a giant evacuation center.

Tuesday, classroom after classroom was stuffed with clothing, bedding, toiletries and other donations from a steady stream of cars. A medical clinic with volunteer doctors, nurses and therapists was set up on the main floor. Outside was a pet refuge, complete with volunteer veterinarians. There was a video game area for young people and a crafts room for younger children.

Among the 300 people who are expected to sleep there Wednesday night were about 200 residents and staff members from Mount Miguel Covenant Village, a retirement center in Spring Valley. They had originally been evacuated to San Diego High School earlier this week but were moved Tuesday because of air quality concerns.

Senior pastor Miles McPherson said the shelter was launched Tuesday morning with a text message sent out to members. Since then, the outpouring has been so great … including 15,000 cases of bottled water … that the church is sending shipments to other centers in the county.

"The reason the church exists … not The Rock Church but the church in general … is to bring hope to all," McPherson said.

Included in the hundreds of volunteers at the church was a 40-year-old registered nurse from South Carolina who is supposed to be vacationing at Shelter Island.

Julia Breeden-Moore spent yesterday on duty in a converted medical clinic that saw about 15 patients by late afternoon. She said she considers it payback for help rendered during storms in her state. "Everyone has always come to our aid," she said.

"You've got to help," she added. "I think it's our responsibility, not just as a health care provider, but also as a person."

Sandi Dolbee

God Samaritan stories abound

Posted @ 6:14 PM

The Good Samaritan stories continue to abound.

The Rock Church in Point Loma has turned itself into a giant evacuation center.

Wednesday, classroom after classroom was stuffed with clothing, bedding, toiletries and other donations from a steady stream of cars. A medical clinic with volunteer doctors, nurses and therapists was set up on the main floor. Outside was a pet refuge, complete with volunteer veterinarians. There was a video game area for young people and a crafts room for younger children.

Among the 300 people who are expected to sleep there tonight were about 200 residents and staff members from Mount Miguel Covenant Village, a retirement center in Spring Valley. They had originally been evacuated to San Diego High School earlier this week but were moved yesterday because of air quality concerns.

Senior pastor Miles McPherson said the shelter was launched Tuesday morning with a text message sent out to members. Since then, the outpouring has been so great … including 15,000 cases of bottled water … that the church is sending shipments to other centers in the county.

"The reason the church exists … not The Rock Church but the church in general … is to bring hope to all," McPherson said.

Included in the hundreds of volunteers at the church was a 40-year-old registered nurse from South Carolina who is supposed to be vacationing at Shelter Island.

Julia Breeden-Moore spent yesterday on duty in a converted medical clinic that saw about 15 patients by late afternoon. She said she considers it payback for help rendered during storms in her state. "Everyone has always come to our aid," she said.

"You've got to help," she added. "I think it's our responsibility, not just as a health care provider, but also as a person."

Sandi Dolbee

Back to normal on TV

Posted @ 5:22 PM

After devoting the last few days to wildfire coverage, some local network affiliates are cautiously returning to their usual prime-time programming tonight. Here is where you can find your favorite shows:

- ABC (KGTV/Channel 10): 8 p.m., "Pushing Daisies," 9 p.m., "Private Practice,"; 10 p.m., "Dirty Sexy Money." If KGTV needs to return to all-news
programming, it's prime-time shows will air on Cox Channel 4, as they have all week.

- CBS (KFMB/Channel 8): KFMB went back to its regularly scheduled programming last night. Tonight, it's "Kid Nation" (8 p.m.); "Criminal Minds" (9 p.m.); and "CSI: NY" (10 p.m.)

- The CW (KSWB/Channel 69, Cable 5): 8 p.m., "America's Next Top Model"; 9 p.m., ""Gossip Girl."

- NBC (KNSD/Channel 39, Cable 7): 8 p.m., "Phenomenon"; 9 p.m., "Bionic Woman"; 10 p.m., "Life."

-- Karla Peterson

'This store is the heart of the community'

Posted @ 4:18 PM

In the midst of the Harris fire chaos a little thing like the reopening of the Lyons Valley Trading Post brings back a sense of normalcy to this small community.

As soon as the locks came off the trading post and the doors were thrown open it was a calming sense for Teresa Arden. Arden is one of the valley's residents who did not leave in the face of the fire.

The trading post is her lifeline. It is where she shops, but more importantly, in the days of fires and evacuations, it is where she gets her news.

"This store is the heart of the community," she said, moments after store owner Bob Johnston popped open the locks.

Arden immediately grabbed an energy drink, settled into the store and started talking with friends.

Just behind Arden were firefighters and a handful of residents who eagerly scooped up drinks and snacks.

It pleased Johnston to see his neighbors … and to lend a helping hand.

"I couldn't keep the store closed," he said. "People have to have a place to come for news and for each other."

-- David Hasemyer

Bowled over by the prices

Posted @ 2:33 PM

From a SignOnSanDiego reader :

I cannot believe what is happening in my community.

We just went to the Mira Mesa Bowling alley to get the kids out of the house after being trapped in the house for the last two days.

We went there because they have this Monday through Friday deal till 3:00 where you can bowl for $1.00 per person per game and $1.00 shoe rental. Much to my surprise we get there and they have a sign on the door saying the $1.00 deal was not valid today and prices would be $15.00 per hour per lane and $3.00 for shoe rental.

That is absolutely absurd to do to this community in this time of “need”. Especially since 90% of the people there were OBVIOUSLY from the evacuation center located at Mira Mesa High School.

Is there anything that can be done about this? Isn’t this price gauging? Seems like something should be done to this business that is taking advantage of these “victims” who are already in hard times.

Darla Razzani

In a phone call from SignOnSanDiego, an employee who answered confirmed the $15 per hour fee.

He said it went into effect today. "We get price changes all the time," he said.

When asked if the bowling lane was gouging, he replied, "Yep."

On calling back, manager John Balla said the $15 per hour price is their normal fee. The $1 per hour is a special rate that is not in effect on holidays or when school is out.

Even though school is out because of the wildfires, he said, school is still out.

"Is the movie theater offering a special price?" he asked.

Staying Afloat

Posted @ 2:05 PM

"We're all in the same boat so to speak," says Sam Clark of Julian.

He's speaking literally and figuratively of the county's evacuees and other residents weathering the firestorm. Literally, for him and his wife, Erika, who were forced to evacuate their home Tuesday and have moved to their 40-foot Catalina sailboat, docked at Sunroad Resort Marina on Harbor Island.

The couple and their dog, Rocky, an Australian Sheppard and border collie mix, are old salts at sitting out fires on the boat. They lived aboard for three months during the Cedar Fire, which claimed their home. Sam Clark says he's still wearing some of the clothes donated by caring San
Diegans back then.

The couple, which have been living in their new house for the last two years, are hoping the capricious winds spare it this time.

The Clarks realize they're lucky in many ways. While so many San Diegans are roughing it in evacuation centers, the retired couple, who have been married 47 years, are "camping in luxury." But, they say, even a sailboat with two staterooms, two heads, a TV and a VCR gets "awfully small" after a few months.

The 610-slip marina, which normally has only about 25 live-aboards, has swelled to hundreds of evacuated boat owners, family and friends and dozens of normally unwelcome
dogs, according to Scott MacLaggan, marina manager. Some owners have opened their boats to strangers.

But despite the numbers, the atmosphere at the dock is reserved. No one feels like partying. "People are not happy, because they're worried about their houses," MacLaggan says.

The situation is similar at other local marinas. Jane Stewart, leasing agent at Harbor Island West Marina, which has 620 slips, estimates the live-aboard population doubled starting Sunday night. "We had quite the kennel out here the other morning." By Tuesday, though, evacuees were starting to return home Tuesday.

Chula Vista Marina, which has 552 slips, also has seen an increase in live-aboards. Marina manager Dave Poret is obviously proud of his owners, who have opened their boats to strangers. He says one owner of 37-foot sailboat has taken in two families. Another owner, whose son was in Iraq, has taken him in as well as several of his Marine friends.

The marina also has invited people with RVs into its parking lot.

"Thank goodness for the marina," Sam Clark says.

By Marsha Kay Seff, Eldercare Editor

Putting a smile on their faces

Posted @ 1:38 PM

Hello everyone!

My name is Joan Marie Hurwit and I am a senior at SDSU and member of SDSU's I Eta Pi's Improv team and the National Comedy Theatre College Team. This is just a brief notice to let you know what some students are up to while we are excused from school for the next several days.

My boyfriend and I went to volunteer at Qualcomm Stadium today (as we have already packed and are driving around with almost everything we own!)

There are so, so many people there -- sleeping on cots, sharing food, mediating with yoga, listening to local musicians, watching movies on the stadium screen ... It was wonderful to see the children's art centers set up and a pile of stuffed animals next to a sign that said "Take one friend!"

Although I teach children in swim, gymnastics, and dance, my lack of certification with a school district prevented us from helping in that area. Otherwise, they didn't need any more immediate civilian help. As we were leaving I thought, "Well, since we can't help now, what is the best way we can volunteer and serve the community?"

Well, obviously the answer is to perform, to entertain.

I wanted to set up a form of FUN FAMILY entertainment to temporarily relieve and distract people from the destruction beyond the stadium. I called friends from schools and improv teams all around San Diego and we are putting on free shows tomorrow at Qualcomm Stadium (Gate B) at 2,3, and 4p.

In a time of such disparity and loss, the least we can do is temporarily relieve stress and pain by making people laugh and spreading smiles.

We witnessed so much hope today, and if the world can continue to laugh, the world can continue to heal : )

It would be great if you joined us tomorrow!

Furthermore, I hope this email finds you and all of your families in the safest conditions.

Best wishes are always with you.

-- Joan Marie Hurwit

Fax machine holds the answer

Posted @ 1:33 PM

When Mark Huettinger called his fax machine and it answered on Tuesday he figured his Rancho Bernardo home would be OK.

"Then my brother said you might come back to a chimney and a fax machine," he said.

That was not the case. Around noon on Wednesday, Mark and his wife, Frances, saw their two-story cream-colored stucco home on Abra Place was still standing.

Some ash seeped in through the door and the spa was dirty but everything else seemed fine.

"Wonderful, absolutely wonderful, it looked like nothing ever happened," he said. Yet a half mile over the hill, several homes were lost.

The empty-nester couple left with their Bichon Frise named Halle Berry around 5 a.m. Monday to a friend's home in Solana Beach and by 8 p.m. they had to leave there after a voluntary evacuation was called. Thankfully, less than 24 hours later, he's back unloading computers from his Toyota Prius to restart his home business.

"We are so glad to be back," Huettinger said.

-- Jose Luis Jimenez

Firefighting 101

Posted @ 1:24 PM

Spring Valley resident Robert "Beto" Monroy, 21, got a lesson in firefighting this morning when he went to Lyons Valley Road near Jamul to check on his parents' house.
The area has been evacuated, but Monroy knows the backroads and snuck back in. When he arrived at the one-story yellow stucco home, he saw flames coming perilously close from the valley.
He quickly joined five or six firefighters from Coronado, using a small trash can to douse the bushes with water, running a house over the property and directing the firefighters.
Crews managed to keep the fire at bay and save the home. Monroy said "it was really worth it" to check back on the home, and that it "wouldn't be bad" to be a firefighter.

-- Ray Huard

KPBS back on the air on its own frequency

Posted @ 12:52 PM

Public-radio station KPBS FM went back to broadcasting on its 89.5 frequency about 7 this morning after losing its signal yesterday morning.

When the Harris fire caused the station to lose power to its Mount San Miguel transmitter, local alternative-music outlet FM 94.9 began airing KPBS's wall-to-wall fire coverage in lieu of its usual programming. Since then, KPBS has been able to install a temporary antenna on the tower atop the KPBS building at San Diego State University, and the 89.5 frequency is back on the air.

The station's news coverage can also be heard on the Web at and on 97.7 in Calexico.

Meanwhile, FM 94.9 is back to playing alternative rock. Might we suggest a rousing rendition of David Bowie's "Heroes"?

- Karla Peterson

It has just been 'hero stuff'

Posted @ 6:43 AM

"What we've seen in the last couple of hours has just been hero stuff," said M.J. Masschka, who has spent the last two days at Steele Canyon High School in Rancho San Diego.

She spent tonight in a folding chair in the school's parking lot in front of her RV watching flames on the ridge above her.

Some of the flames, she said, fire officials explained to her were set by fire crews as a defense.

"They said we were going to see a light show to beat hell, and it was beautiful," Masschka said.

Not only that, she said, but a resident of Campo Road gave her a $350 bottle of wine in exchange for keeping his birds in the shower of her RV.

-- Chris Moran

Waiting out the fire at Four Seasons

Posted @ 6:29 AM

CARLSBAD -- Colin O'Brien and his wife, Jocelyn, were enjoying a getaway at the Four Seasons in Manhattan when they heard about the fires in San Diego. At first, they weren't worried about their Rancho Santa Fe home of 10 years.

But by the time their plane touched down Monday, they were scared. They rushed to their house to retrieve computers, insurance papers and sentimental objects. Their neighbors took off for their second home in Carlsbad, and brought the O'Briens' cats with them.

Then they headed for one of the most comfortable places where evacuees could wait out the fires, the Four Seasons Aviara in Carlsbad.

The Witch Creek fire tore through some of San Diego's toniest neighborhoods, including Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe. Some of their residents landed at upscale hotels like the Aviara, which is nestled at the end of a winding driveway lined by palm trees and birds of paradise and features a shushing fountain with sculpted flamingos, four restaurants and a spa.

Sweating about losing a house is certainly no fun no matter where you're staying, but it has to be a little easier when you can book a massage, practice your golf stroke on a putting green, soak in a whirlpool bath or order creme brulee and lamb chops from room service. Rooms at the Aviara start at $350 a night.

To check on his house, O'Brien called his answering machine, which he was relieved to find still picked up, and scanned the Internet on computers provided to guests. Provided there's no more bad news, he figures he'll be at the resort several more nights. "We forgot to pack clothes, though," he said.

Shouldn't be a problem really. The concierge can always direct him to Moonbeams or Peaches En Regalia, the resort's two boutiques.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Enough already

Posted @ 10:53 PM

Some Julian residents were beginning to feel Tuesday as if they'd taken a few too many gut punches.
Parts of the backcountry community got their second evacuation order in just two months.
The Witch Creek fire was the third in five months to hit residents. Those followed the Cedar fire of 2003, which destroyed hundreds of homes in the hamlets of Harrison Park and Cuyamaca.
Rob Tracy's home was one of them.
"I won't stay in Julian if this house burns," Tracy said Tuesday night, while on duty as a California Highway Patrol officer at a road block near Lake Henshaw.
Tracy and his family had moved to Kentwood in the Pines after their Harrison Park home burned in the Cedar fire. He worked Tuesday night while his wife and three daughters made their way to Murrieta to stay with family.
This time around, Tracy expressed optimism that his house would survive. Just in case, he had stashed some personal treasures, including his guitar, his wife's jewelry, his daughter's stuffed animals and his late father's photo album from World War II, in his patrol car.
He said he was puzzled why some of his neighbors were reluctant to leave after the order to evacuate came at about 4 p.m.
"You only have to lose everything once to become a believer," he said. "I was amazed (after) the last fire how fast stuff regenerates."
"It was really weird to watch San Diego burning and we were up here with blue skies. Til Now," he said. "This is familiar territory, unfortunately."
- Michael Burge

Teenager in transit

Posted @ 7:12 PM

Danny Cholagh, 17, has been evacuated three times in 30 hours. The first time was from Jamul, where he'd been visiting a friend.

Danny went to his mom's house in Spring Valley yesterday, but just a few hours later was forced onto the roads again, this time to Rancho San Diego. This afternoon the Harris Fire nomad and his duffel bag were in transit again, this time to the Spring Valley neighborhood near Steele Canyon High School, where he is a senior.

Danny was looking forward to going home, "having my room back, not being all over the place, scrambling and not knowing what's happening," he said, just after a CHP officer had driven through the neighborhood recommending that people have their cars packed.

Danny was already prepared. The duffel bag had his toothbrush, phone charger, pants and boxers.

-- Chris Moran

Family rounds up goats that broke out during fire

Posted @ 7:08 PM

Del Dios Highway east of Rancho Santa Fe was eerily quiet Tuesday afternoon. But near Rancho Del Rio, several people crouched over three bleating goats who lay by the roadway, their legs tied with rope.

The animals had broken free of their pen nearby and scattered. Neighbors corraled them, and now stood over them, stroking their backs and rubbing their ears in an effort to calm them.

"We're just trying to get them back in their pens," said Chip Cogle, 38.

Men in the group carefully lifted the animals over a white vinyl fence and down a small slope to their pens.

The landscape had been blackened by fire the day before and spots still smoldered. But it appeared fire was finished here.

For Olivia Jacobs, 17, this was only the latest of several animal rescues since early Monday.

She and her family had saved two of their horses, Ruby and Badger, yesterday. The animals were now at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. "We were the last ones to get animals out," she said of her family's successful effort to walk the horses out of their burning neighborhood … down
Del Dios Highway to El Camino del Norte.

Once the horses were safe, she and the rest of her family returned to their house later in the day Monday and saved it from the flames.

"We were mini-fire fighters until 11 o'clock," she said.

- Bruce Lieberman

Viejas prepares for changes in the winds

Posted @ 6:40 PM

Sandwiched between the Witch Creek fire to the north and the Harris fire to the south, Viejas officials are preparing in the event a change in the weather brings fire to the reservation.

If that happens, the plan is to protect tribal members in the tribal recreation center and employees, neighbors and travellers coming in off Interstate 8 in the casino.

"We're digging in our heels," said spokesman Bob Scheid.

The casino is operating on reduced staff, but has become a place where truckers and RV owners have gathered, unable to continue east on Interstate 8 because of high winds.

"We're providing a place for people who may be trapped," said Viejas Fire Chief Don Butz, noting that the valley in which the casino and recreational center sit don't have a lot of vegetation for a fire to consume.

-- Onell R. Soto

Elderly Rancho Bernardo couple stays home

Posted @ 6:27 PM

While the entire community of Rancho Bernardo was evacuated Monday morning, an elderly couple … totally unaware of the danger facing them … remained blissfully in their home.

Hyman and Helen Cohen, ages 90 and 87, did not leave their home on Camino Emparrado until late Tuesday, said their daughter, Nancy Cohen.

Up until then, the couple stayed in the house, without electricity. They had no idea that their neighborhood had turned into a ghost town threatened by a ferocious fire.

Cohen said her parents did not hear the reverse 911 message left on their answering machine because the power was out and they didn't question the outage because they knew there were some fires in the county, Cohen said.

When Cohen finally got ahold of her mother and asked what she thought was going on, her mom simply said they didn't know the fire was anywhere near them.

When she looked outside, she thought the smoke obscuring the sky was fog.

Officials became aware of the couple when they finally decided their home was too hot without electricity and called 911 Tuesday afternoon.

San Diego police officers decided that it would be best if the couple stayed put. They, as well as city firefighters, promised the worried daughter they would keep them under their collective wings. One officer even brought them food.

"They were the only ones left in all of Rancho Bernardo," Cohen said.

After hearing that the couple was alone in the community, police escorted family friends to their home. They packed up the couple and whisked them off to Oceanside.

-- Debbi Baker

Packing up

Posted @ 5:46 PM

Phileshia Mooney, a Scripps Chula Vista employee, rearranged items
Tuesday in the trunk of her car in the parking lot of her Otay Mesa apartment

Mooney made room for her sister's wheelchair and four days worth of
clothing and rations for her daughter and sister, if forced to evacuate.
Mooney had a 12-hour shift that began at 7 p.m. She said if evacuated before
then she would go to the hospital, where officials offered accommodations for
employees and their families.

A voluntary evacuation was still in effect in the late afternoon from Main
Street to the border.

Mooney said her sister and 16-year-old daughter, Michel-le, are asthmatic. Both were staying indoors and wearing masks. Mooney said Michel-le was upset because she doesn't want to miss her school's homecoming dance next weekend.

"She just got her dress," said Mooney, as white ashes fell around her face.

- Janine Zuniga

"We could see it from the freeway"

Posted @ 5:42 PM

"We could see it from the freeway, " Alice Beas (pronounced bay-us) said yesterday afternoon. She was talking about her home in Rancho Bernardo, on Wessex Street. She and her husband George and sons, Rocky, 11, and Tommy 24, piled in the car and drove up 15 because they couldn't stand it anymore.
The family's joy is tempered by thoughts of their neighbors on Wessex Street.
"You can see the gaps where my neighbors' houses were," Beas said softly. She said she fully expected find nothing but ruins in her cul-de-sac.
"Really, when we left, we had minutes to get out," she recalled. "There was fire across the street, fire behind our house (on a canyon). It was very, very frightening."
They evacuated to her sister Nancy's three-bedrooom home in Clairemont, which became refuge for 14.
"We have air mattresses in the living room, air mattresses in the dining room," said Beas with a laugh. "But it was fun. We ate pizza, drank beer," and this close-knit family bonded even more.
But they worried, too.
"I made Rocky watch lots of the coverage so he would be prepared for the worst," said Beas. "To try to keep stuff from him has backfired on me before."
He got a nice surprise.
"I feel great. Really happy," said the sixth graders at St. Michael's in Poway. A far cry from 4:30 a.m. on Monday when the evacuation call came.
"I was scared. It was really scary. I thought I was going to throw up."
Now he can't wait to get home, though he is sad about the children in his neighborhood who can't.
How will he handle it?
"I don't know," he said with a very deep sigh.


Uneasy residents remember Harmony Grove fire

Posted @ 5:26 PM

Several Elfin Forest residents uneasily watched smoke drift over nearby hills Tuesday afternoon as they recalled the Harmony Grove fire that ripped through the canyon more than a decade ago, burning 100 homes and 8,600 acres.

"October 21st … it was exactly 11 years ago," said Sue Hill, a 26-year resident of Elfin Forest, a rural community tucked in the hills east of Carlsbad.

In 1996, Hill drove away from her home as the nearby hills burned. When she returned, she found that firefighters had saved her house but flames burned her outdoor furniture and trees in her yard.

"You never really forget something like that," she said.

Monday, Hill and her husband volunteered at the Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove Fire Department station on Elfin Forest Road, preparing food for firefighters who were headed out to protect homes in the area.

"It just reminds you of the big fire that we already had here," Hill said. Hill evacuated her home Sunday night, she said, taking belongings that included a painting of her beloved Elfin Forest.

Hill said that this time, she was more afraid because she knows what a fire can do.

"It's a big unknown," she said. "This place, the day after the (Harmony Grove) fire, looked like the moon."

Monday, three Elfin Forest residents stood and watched … as smoke rose from the hills … in the fire station parking lot. Geoff Kindel said he planned to leave soon, but he wanted to see "the whites of its eyes."

Two of them wore masks to cover their noses and mouths. They listened to a radio and quieted each other during updates on the region.

John Carley said 11 years ago he stayed at his house, which survived the fire. This time, he said, "I'll leave if it gets bad."

Craig Jones said, "We're packed and ready to go. We're just waiting for the fire to come through." He paused to listen for a helicopter in the distance. "They're working it," he said.

Dave Kaplan, 48, of Elfin Forest stopped by the fire station Monday, as well. He said his family evacuated their home early Monday morning and headed to Carlsbad, making trips back to the area to get animals out. But he said the pigs on the family's property were too spooked to be moved.

Kaplan said he planned to put sprinklers on top of his home before heading out again. "Might as well, right?" he asked. "At least you feel like you did something."

-- Matthew Rodriguez

Network news covers the fires

Posted @ 5:22 PM

The wildfires have brought the national news media to Southern California. Here is a list of network and cable news programs that will be broadcasting from San Diego:

- CBS: Katie Couric will anchor tonight's "CBS Evening News" from the evacuation center at Qualcomm Stadium. The show airs at 6 p.m. on KFMB/Channel 8.

- ABC: ABC News will broadcast a "20/20" special on the wildfires at 10 tonight on KGTV/Channel 10. Charles Gibson will anchor from Rancho Bernardo.

- CNN: Anderson Cooper will anchor "Anderson Cooper 360" from San Diego at 7 tonight. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be reporting from Qualcomm. Beginning at 3 a.m., Kiran Chetry and John Roberts will co-anchor "American Morning" from the Harris fire; and Kyra Phillips will co-anchor "CNN Newsroom" from Qualcomm beginning at 6 a.m. tomorrow.

- NBC: "Today" show co-anchor Matt Lauer reported from San Diego this morning. Tomorrow morning, Al Roker will take his place. "Today" airs at 7 a.m. on KNSD/Channel 39 (Cable 7). Tonight, "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams will be reporting from Rancho Bernardo beginning at 5:30 p.m.

-- Karla Peterson

Cooking up some fresh tales from wildfires

Posted @ 4:53 PM

After slipping behind fire lines to check on his home and restaurant, Mille Fleurs owner Bertrand Hug was relieved to find that both had been spared. But his neighborhood wasn't unscathed.
"A house was burning about 200 yards down," he said. "It's completely deserted except for the fire engines."
Hug closed both Mille Fleurs and Bertrand at Mister A's Monday, but reopened the Banker's Hill restaurant yesterday. He planned to create a $20 special as a treat for fire victims.

... ... ...

The Grande Colonial Hotel housed 120 evacuees, spreading them among hotel rooms and letting some of them bed down on cots set up in the banquet rooms. Nine-Ten chefs and staff who came in on their days off fed their guests a family-style dinner of roast turkey, a buffet breakfast with eggs and sausage and snacks of popcorn and cookies throughout the day, Food and Beverage Director Neal Wasserman said.
"They're all a bit in shock but they're super nice and super appreciative," Wasserman said. "The outpouring of general civility you don't see in normal life is great."

... ... ...

Like many evacuees, Pamplemousse Grille chef Jeffrey Strauss was holed up in a downtown hotel. But the wine-loving chef and his girlfriend had fled with a little more than the basic necessities.
"I told her to pack up my clothes and the pets and I'll grab my Screaming Eagles and RomaneÐe-Contis," Strauss said. "Those are my most valuable bottles of wine and I've got the room at 65 degrees."
Screaming Eagle is highly sought-after Napa Valley cult cabernet sauvignon; Domaine de la RomaneÐe-Conti is the most storied estate in the French wine region Burgundy. Both are easily worth thousands of dollars a bottle.

... ... ...

With all of his scheduled parties cancelled, Chef David Chenelle was sititng at home watching fire coverage when he decided he had to help.
"We're not rich guys but we have strength with food purveyors," said Chenelle, executive chef at the Coronado Yacht Club.
Chenelle, Joaquin Cuevas and Ralph Ford -- members of a professional organization called the Chef's de Cuisine Association -- gathered up fruit, vegetables, meat, beans and bottled water from Restaurant Depot, Sysco, Baja Produce and set out to feed somebody.
There were a couple false starts; the people at San Diego High School and Qualcomm Stadium already had enough. Authorities at the Chula Vista Youth Center, an evacuation site, told them to come back Wednesday. But 30 minutes later they called back.
Chenelle said they fed 60 Chula Vista Police officers a buffet of mixed green salad, corn on the cob, fruit, barbecued pork sandwiches and ranch beans.


Palomar Observatory refuge for about 20 people

Posted @ 4:52 PM

About 20 people sought refuge from the Poomacha fire at the Palomar Observatory.

"We had some local mountain residents, some people from the state park,"said observatory spokesman Scott Kardel, who let evacuees into the observatory's visitor center before dawn.

"The plan is to obviously pay close attention to what the situation is, we have some provisions for people," he said.

If the observatory ran out of room in the visitors center, the plan is to move then into the dome holding the Hale Telescope.

"That's probably the safest spot in the whole mountain," Kardel said.

But he won't be among those seeking refuge there. Together with his family, he has moved to Borrego Springs, where many people from the county's back country are going to escape the fires.

It is unclear how many people will spend the night at the observatory. County officials are recommending evacuees go to Borrego Springs.

The observatory is closed to the public until further notice.

-- Onell R. Soto

"There was nothing on that agenda that was life-threatening"

Posted @ 4:51 PM

El Cajon resident Kristy Mundt was incensed this afternoon because the El Cajon City Council held its regular meeting … even though most residents were staying home because of the wildfires.
"There was nothing on that agenda that was life-threatening," said Mundt, who added that she has been religiously attending council meetings since January.
She said there were only about 10 residents in the audience and she and another person in the audience left in disgust.
"They're holding a meeting when most people have been told to stay off the road because of the fire," Mundt said. "Their answer was to take a moment and have a prayer for the fire victims."

Jen Steele, staff writer

Local TV: Pre-empting the networks for fire coverage

Posted @ 4:46 PM

Their news staffs are exhausted and some of them are getting their power from back-up generators, but San Diego's local TV stations will continue to provide wall-to-wall wildfire coverage into the evening.

Here is a look at what some stations will be doing in lieu of tonight's usual prime-time programming:

- XETV/Channel 6 will continue its wildfire coverage into prime time tonight. "Bones" will air tonight at 11 p.m., and "House" will air at midnight. Tomorrow's World Series coverage should begin at 5 p.m. as scheduled.

- KNSD/Channel 39 (Cable 7) will once again pre-empt its regularly scheduled prime-time programming to air wildfire coverage. Tuesday night's prime-time line-up will air on Saturday, with "The Singing Bee" at 4 p.m., "The Biggest Loser" at 4:30 p.m. and "Law & Order: SVU" airing at 6 p.m. The station will also continue to have Tania Luviano of Mi San Diego provide evacuation information in Spanish during its news broadcasts.

- KFMB/Channel 8 will also pre-empt its prime-time programming for more news coverage. No word yet on when the pre-empted programs will air.

- Tonight, ABC News will devote a special edition of "20/20" to the Southern California wildfires. Charles Gibson will anchor the show from Rancho Bernardo. It is scheduled to air at 10 p.m.on KGTV/Channel 10.

- KUSI/Channel 51 (Cable 9) will continue with its nonstop fire coverage until sometime after midnight. There will be live fire updates after midnight, with the news team returning at 4 a.m. for more on-going coverage.

- Karla Peterson

Solar Energy Week scaled back

Posted @ 4:34 PM

This week's Solar Energy Week program has been scaled back due to the San Diego County wildfires.

Organizers said they will continue with a Solar Conference Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the San Diego Marriott in Mission Valley, 8757 Rio San Diego Drive. The event is free, but preregistartion is required at Walk-ins will be charged a $30 fee.

Postponed were a tour scheduled for today of commercial sites using solar energy and a tour scheduled for Saturday of selected residences in the county that use solar systems.

The conference on Thursday will focus on legislation, technologies and the economics of solar power with presentations by industry and government experts.

-- Carl Larsen

'Seeing the people's faces -- making them smile'

Posted @ 4:32 PM

Catherine Norcross cradled a dog as she carried it into Steele Canyon High School, with flames licking the hill tops and ash falling like snowflakes.
The Red Cross volunteer was taking the dog to shelter so firefighters could drop fire retardant on the area.
This is Norcross' first disaster but she said it won't be her last.
"I just want to give back to the community," said the Spring Valley resident, who became a Red Cross volunteer two years ago.
"I think nowadays people don't care like they used to. We're kind of isolated and afraid to reach out, but we're really all the same."
As she picked out a sandwich after rescuing the dog she was asked why she did this.
"Seeing the people's faces -- making them smile."

---Staff writer Sandi Dolbee

Harmony Grove firefighters watch blaze warily

Posted @ 4:20 PM

Volunteer firefighters from the Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove Fire Department had their eyes on the hills as a fire burned out of control over a ridge near near the Del Dios community.

So far the only resources available to the firefighters Tuesday afternoon were four fire engines and a brush truck. They were focusing on spraying homes with foam and water, getting prepared in the event that the fire came down into their community.

The big fear, they said, is that the fire could hook around the ridge and burn down to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve and the canyon below. The canyon runs into Rancho Santa Fe near the Bridges development.

Most of the residents here have already evacuated, however, there are a few people in the Harmony Grove area in who have refused to go.

Posted by Kristina Davis

No waiting

Posted @ 3:50 PM

Border Patrol officials said the wait to cross at both the San Ysidro and Otay
Mesa ports of entry was five minutes on Tuesday afternoon. Joe Perez, the
agent in charge at the Chula Vista station, said the short wait is

San Diego Police Department and Border Patrol officials used a section of the
Home Town Buffet restaurant near Palm Avenue and I-805 as a staging site to
monitor the fire and potential evacuations.

The restaurant had originally been closed because of the fires, but San Diego
Police Lt. Deborah Farrar called the manager and asked if they could use the
restaurant. Employees arrived and soon the restaurant was full of both law
enforcement officials and local residents. It is one of the few restaurants
open in the area.

Two Hometown Buffet employees who live in Mexico anticipated a long border
wait but arrived two hours early.

At the San Ysidro port of entry, the streets were nearly vacant. Cars were
passing through the border without much trouble, and very few people were

Farrar said at mid-afternoon, a voluntary evacuation was still in effect east
of I-805 and south of Main Street to the border.

"We're still suggesting to people that they stay away from their homes. They
don't have to leave, but we haven't told them it was OK to return," she said.

- Janine Zuniga

Spared once, homes fall to flames Tuesday

Posted @ 2:31 PM

Homes that escaped the Harris fire Sunday along Honey Springs Road in Dearhorn Valley east of Jamul fell to its flames Tuesday.

Firefighters from as far away as Lake Tahoe fought against the fire, scrambling to pockets of burning brush and flaming homes.

Some homes they tried to save, while others were too consumed by fire to even try.

At one home, in the 2100 block of Honey Springs that had obviously burned earlier, heavy streams of water did nothing to quell the flames.

Fire spilled from under the eaves of the wood-framed house while ugly grey smoke billowed from roof vents.

Firefighters had to work around the blackened debris left behind days earlier.
It was finally hopeless and they turned their water on a nearby propane tank.

Dave Hasemeyer

Leaving Chula Vista

Posted @ 1:25 PM

Luz de la Cruz lives on Hill Street in Chula Vista, north of East San Ysidro Boulevard. Tuesday, while her brother was watering down the house, she and her boyfriend, Matt Abrams, were loading up their car and getting ready to evacuate.

"We're just getting letters, photos, the bills," she said. "Actually, I'm scared."
De la Cruz said they might be heading to the San Ysidro Civic Center on East Park Avenue.

Luz Camacho, cq with Casa Familiar, the social services agency that is operating the Civic Center evacuation center, said the center had been open since 8 a.m. on Tuesday, but only four families had signed in as of 12:30 p.m.

She said they can handle up to 150 people there and 150 more people at a nearby site. Camacho said that the evacuation center was accepting donations of packaged items such as granola bars, healthy snacks and juices.

Nacho Martinez and Johnny Willer of Martinez Supply, a local hardware company, were dropping off at least a dozen packages of bottled water and other supplies at the center.

"We'd expect the same if we needed it," said Willer.

- Janine Zuniga

Heroes come in all sizes and ages

Posted @ 1:22 PM

When he was little, Malcolm Jones always dreamed of being a hero someday.

Tuesday morning, cutting up boxes of cots on the Qualcomm Stadium pavement, he came a little closer.

"It's not much, but it does make a difference in people's lives," said Jones, 18, of La Mesa.

Volunteers arrived with religious groups and, like Jones, just on their own. Jones, a student at Grossmont College, said, "I felt I had to do something since I was safe in my own house."

So, does he feel like a hero?

He smiled in the hot sun. "Yeah, in a small way."

-- Sandi Dolbee

Qualcomm volunteers turn out by the hundreds

Posted @ 1:20 PM

Between 600 and 700 volunteers have signed up as of 11 a.m. Tuesday at Qualcomm Stadium.

Alpha Project goes to work

Posted @ 1:18 PM

The Alpha Project social services agenciy in San Diego distributed masks, food and water to hundreds of homeless people today who were walking around downtown without shelter.
-- Ron Powell

Elderly, ailing transported from Fairgrounds

Posted @ 1:15 PM

Throughout the night at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, ambulance crews transported more than 200 elderly and medically fragile evacuees to medical facilities as far away as El Centro.

As of 10 a.m., 100 infirm people were still at the fairgrounds but ambulance strike teams were arriving to re-evacuate them elsewhere. Dr. Cesar Aristeiguieta, director of the state's Emergency Medical Services Authority, said the plan is to finish the evacuation by 5 p.m. today.

Yesterday the Del Mar Fairgrounds became the refuge for roughly 1,200 evacuees, including about 300 convalescent home patients from Villa Rancho Bernardo. Many of the patients were wheelchair-bound, bed-ridden or on oxygen.

"The number of patients that showed up here was really unanticipated," said Aristeiguieta. "Frankly, I think they did a marvelous job."

Aristeiguieta was referring to the team of volunteer doctors, nurses, and other civilians who pitched in yesterday to help the Villa Rancho Bernardo residents and staff.

Aristeiguieta arrived last night on the heels of his boss, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who conducted a tour of the facility around 9 p.m.

"We are trying to sort out the people that have the respiratory. problems and the old vulnerable people who need the help," the governor said.

He said that it was clear that many of the people at the fairgrounds needed to be transported to medical facilities.

But then he commented, "I'm not a medical expert. I'm just here to make sure there is follow through, that nothing falls through the cracks." The former action-hero paused and laughed: "Hands on action"

For the non-ill evacuees at the fairgrounds, the night was relatively peaceful, although some were awakened in the wee hours as ambulances continued to arrive and EMTs were rolling people out on gurneys.

A wary eye on Harris Fire

Posted @ 1:09 PM

Firefighters Craig Weaver and Scott Walker kept a wary watch on a finger of
the Harris Fire from the backyard of a home in rural Jamul.

The fire had been bobbing and weaving all night long through brushy canyons
to the east. By sunrise the fire was burning a little more than a mile away,
changing course with the capricious winds.

"We don't know what to expect," Weaver said.

Along with 17 other firefighters, Weaver and Walker were keeping watch on
Rancho Jamul Estates, an enclave of luxury homes that normally command
sweeping backcountry views, but Tuesday afforded a lookout on the advancing

The firefighters had been on duty nearly 30 hours, getting by on sandwiches
they'd saved from sack meals they'd been given the previous night. Some
firefighters took turns snatching 15 to 20 minutes of sleep in the cramped
cabs of their firetrucks, while others stood watch nearby.

"We wait and watch," Weaver said.

But that's an important part of their job.

The strike team Weaver and Walker are assigned to have the responsibility
of defending 85 multi-million dollar homes with five firetrucks.

"Those aren't good odds," Walker said, explaining that with so many fires
it's not possible to have more fire equipment or firefighters at the ready.

Because they know the odds are long, the firefighters have developed a plan
in case the advancing flames explode onto the homes.

"We've done a triage of the neighborhood," Walker said.

What that means is that when they arrived Monday they drove through the
neighborhood looking at where each house was situated on the canyon … which
ones had clearings and which had too much brush nearby.

"We know what we can save and what we can't," Weaver said. "That doesn't
mean we don't try to save everything, but we know in some cases we can't."

They have a game plan. They've walked around each house. They know where to
take their hoses. They know where the fire might go.

"We do our best to prepare," Walker said. "But when things start happening
we have to react and rely on our experiences."
-- David Hasemeyer