Tuesday, October 23, 2007

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

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