Monday, October 22, 2007

Once should be enough

Posted @ 10:09 PM

It's a frighteningly familiar scene for the Bellante family of Lakeside. On Sunday night, they left their home at the edge of the Barona reservation, off Wildcat Canyon Road, to escape the approaching Witch Creek Fire. Just as they fled the Cedar Fire in 2003. But there are a few differences that make them calmer today than they were four years ago.

"Yeah, it's definitely different," says Melanie Bellante, a senior at El Capitan High School. "I might lose my house, but I'm not going to die."

The family wasn't so sure of that last time. They barely escaped with their lives, lying beside each other, face down on a concrete slab for hours as the fire raged around them on all sides.

Lori Bellante's burns were severe enough to keep her in the UCSD Hospital Burn Unit for 12 days. They lost the home that her husband Lonnie's grandparents built in the early 1930s and, after three long years, finally rebuilt on the family homestead at the edge of the Cleveland National Forest.

But their memories sent them packing early last night to Lori's mother's home a few miles away, where they had gone last time.

"I remembered how fast the fire moved," said Lonnie. "I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to be trapped again."

On Monday they headed farther from the fire, to Lonnie's father's home in Lemon Grove. And they waited.

"I call Barona Tribal Enforcement every once in awhile and so far there's no fire on the reservation," Lori said early in the afternoon.

"I'm still so scared because I don't want my house to burn down," said Lindi, a high school sophomore now. "We've only been in it a year."

The girls are checking in with friends via text messages on their cell phones. Lonnie stayed up most of the night and won't rest until he knows things are OK at home. Lori admits she's overly
optimistic.

"Everything's going to be fine," she said. "I had a dream two weeks ago about this. We had to evacuate but our house was fine. Our house is going to be fine."

-- Jane Clifford

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