“Back to Square One” is the continuing story of the loss of our home in the San Diego Witch Fire 2007. To read earlier chapters in this series, click the links below:
Prologue – Any Way the Wind Blows
Chapter One – The Valley That Time Forgot
Chapter Two – Eye of the Storm
Chapter Three – In the Blink of an Eye
Chapter Three.One – Too Far From Home (Tiffany’s Story)
Chapter Four – Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Chapter Five – In a Blue Funk
It’s now Saturday, October 27th. After eating breakfast in our hotel room, we pack the rest of our belongings, load up Coco and check out of the hotel. There is a Costco nearby and I decide I want to develop my photos, copy them to a CD and delete them from my camera. At the photo counter, we download the photos for development and wander around the store for an hour waiting for them to be ready for pickup.
Walking the store aisles, I realize the immense challenge that faces us. Replacing all that we lost was not going to be easy. We don’t buy anything, because as future temporary residents at our in-laws house, we don’t know how much space we will have available. Plus, after spending a week at a hotel, with hotel charges, restaurant charges, gas charges for our daily (sometimes twice daily) 60 mile round trips to our property in an SUV, charges for a new cell phone and Wi-Fi, and Coco’s veterinarian bills, we are concerned about the charges we are racking up. An hour passes and I go to the photo counter to pick up our photos. The young man asks if this is our home. I say yes and tell him we were just allowed to go back yesterday. He tells me there is no charge for the photos. Another totally random act of kindness.
We stop at a local hardware store and purchase multiple pairs of heavy gloves and dust filtering masks. We want to be prepared for the crew of friends and family arriving today to help us. We head out to our property after stopping for lunch. We want to arrive before anyone else does. One girlfriend, Kathy, arrives bearing gifts: she’s brought us a brand new rolling ice chest filled with ice and cold drinks, a brand new shovel, a brand new push broom and a brand new large dust pan; things I never considered when shopping earlier that day in the hardware store. I’m so grateful to her for these very useful tools and remembering drinks for everyone. We no longer have a way to provide even drinking water on our property and our home is eight miles from the nearest town and convenience store!
My mom, dad, sister and niece arrive followed by another girlfriend, Debra, and her daughter. Another girlfriend (Zoe), her husband (Jim), son and daughter arrive, completing our “rubble rousers”. We are now on high alert, searching for “memories”. Not only does the warmth of love and caring that we are receiving from this group of family and friends mean so much to us, but I believe their participation brings a sense of closure to our collective memory of the place that had been our home for the last 18 years.
Carefully we sift through the debris and ash. Unlike most Southern California homes, ours was not built on a slab. Because it was 99-years-old, it had a “crawl space” of about 15 inches, which of course collapsed during the fire. This created pockets of debris that were knee deep, so everyone proceeded cautiously. Also, since our house had a second floor, the areas where the second floor landed were quite deep, some impassable.
Back where our bedroom had been, Jim finds a shiny smooth object peeking out of the debris. He reaches for it and it’s quite heavy. With both hands, he lifts one of my father’s small bronze statues out of the rubble and ash! I tell him there are two of them, a pair of solid bronze nude sculptures, collectively known as “the girls”. He digs around and locates the second one. They are intact and survived the firestorm because they are solid bronze. Everyone is so excited; something has survived the fire! My dad is extremely excited, too. They are dirty and scratched, but Dad knows a foundry that can clean them up and make them perfect again. Originally located on top of a seven-foot bookshelf in our bedroom, I completely forgot about them in our haste to leave during our evacuation.
We collect countless buckets of pottery shards, burned eating utensils, many metal skeletons of former decorative items. I don’t know why – all of this stuff was useless and beyond salvaging in any way. There was just this “need” by everyone present to find our “memories”. We piled the buckets of salvaged debris alongside our 2 outdoor metal storage containers and then opened these cargo containers to survey the damage inside.
These storage units were parked on concrete next to each other. The raging fire hit the first unit, burning the paint off of its side. Finding no other fuel because it was stationed on concrete and was metal, the fire moved on. When we opened this storage unit, the toxic fumes were so great you couldn’t go inside! This particular storage unit housed all of our seasonal supplies – Christmas trees and ornaments, other Christmas decorations including a large Christmas village with over 400 buildings, trains, Thanksgiving and Easter decorations and decorations for other holidays. Most were stored in large plastic containers that you can purchase at your various retail variety stores. The heat from the fire burning the exterior paint was so great, it melted the plastic containers, destroying their contents and creating a horrible toxic smell. We promptly sealed both storage units and padlocked them to keep people out because of the unsafe fumes.
We have a large collection of outdoor ceramic pots that have also survived the fire. I start stressing out about what to do with them. I want to keep them because they are some of the only items remaining from the destruction. We have no place to store them and I’m afraid of looters at our now vacant, unprotected property. Zoe and Jim offer to take them to their house and store them alongside their house in their fenced-in yard until we rebuild. I tell them it could be many years and they say it’s not a problem. I’m in awe of their generous spirit. We make plans to meet again tomorrow and Jim will bring a friend who can help with the heavy lifting.
The afternoon comes to an end with hugs and thanks all around. We leave, Coco of course in tow, and drive to our in-laws house. Charlie’s brother, Jerome, and our sister-in-law, Lisa, and two out of their three sons welcome us and our sister-in-law shows us to a lovely guest room and nearby bath. We bring our few belongings inside, settle into our new environment and attempt to familiarize Coco to his new surroundings. We join our in-laws for dinner and then retire for the night, exhausted.
The rubble crew, from left to right: my sister (Gail), my father (Chuck), my girlfriend’s husband (Jim), my girlfriend’s daughter, my girlfriend (Zoe) behind her husband and my other girlfriend (Kathy).
Another picture of the crew. On the right side of the photo: my niece (Samantha), another girlfriend’s daughter (Debra’s daughter) and my girlfriend, Debra.
Photo above from left to right: Zoe’s daughter, Debra’s daughter, my niece, Samantha, Debra, Zoe’s son and Charlie on the chair.
“The Girls” – these are the solid bronze sculptures created by my father and found by Jim in the rubble. In my excitement of this unbelievable “find”, I forgot to take a picture that day. In this picture, they are cleaned up and in our condo (our temporary home for 13 months). They are very small – “Sitting Girl” on the left is 7 1/2 inches tall and “Kneeling Girl” on the right is 11 inches tall.
The series continues tomorrow with Chapter Seven – “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.”
Until Next Time,