Thursday, October 25, 2007

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."

… JOHN WILKENS

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