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California Residents Confront Results of Wildfires

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As firefighters continue to battle blazes in Southern California, many San Diego residents returned to neighborhoods once in the fires' path. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Ramona, outside San Diego, that some people have found their homes destroyed, while others have suffered little or no damage.

It is one of the paradoxes of wildfires. One house can be destroyed while a neighbor's is left standing.

In the last few days, the wildfires have burned down 1,800 homes in California, 80 percent in San Diego.

For families returning from hotels and evacuation centers, the question of whether they would find their home still standing was soon answered.

One family on the outskirts of Ramona sifted through the rubble of their home.

Across the road, the house of Ernie Medina was left untouched, but his barn had burned to the ground.

Medina had stayed on his property as long as he could, defying authorities, but he says he was powerless as flames swept through last Sunday.  He escaped in his truck just in time.

"Embers were bouncing off me about golf ball size," he recalled.  "It was like being in a war, [it] is the only way I can explain it.  They were bouncing off me.  It looked like tracer bullets traveling about two to three feet off the ground."

In the nearby hills, a Mexican immigrant named Fernando escaped the fire with his family, and his house also survived the fire.  But flames destroyed a trailer on his property and a shed behind his house with construction tools.

He says he lost $8,000 in equipment.

Amid the burned out-trees on the other side of town, farmer George Schnurer is thankful his home is standing.

"The fire got very, very close to the house," he said.  "And through the efforts of the firefighters, they saved the houses, which I'm very grateful for."

On Friday, firefighters including Don Stasiowski got a welcome break, and expressions of gratitude, after days of non-stop efforts.

"In those first early days, hours, you don't have much of a choice, because they don't have enough people down here yet, so you just have to keep working, and rest when you can, and just work," he noted.

Also Friday, the community clinic was ready to reopen to help residents deal with breathing problems and other illnesses caused or worsened by the blazes.

Utility workers were getting electric power, water, and telephones working again.

Ramona resident Ron Newman says he has always been skeptical about officials in government, but is impressed with their response to this disaster.

"The whole system in general worked," he said.  "And, sure, there are going to be glitches, and we're going to go back and see what we could have done better, but that's what a good, smart society does is learn from their mistakes.  And I'm telling you, I didn't see hardly any in this one."

But residents here in Ramona say it may take some time to get life back to normal.

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