October 22, 2014

Elyria
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47°F
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Fires came close — too close for their comfort

My sister and her neighbors were roughly 10 feet from having another very bad day. That’s how close the San Diego wildfires came to the suburban Rancho Bernardo condominiums where my sister, Kristina, lives.

At about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, she answered her phone as she was walking in the door to her place — the first time she’d been back since 5 a.m. Monday.

COURTESY KRISTINA FOUCHER
Wildfires came within 10 feet of the home of Kristina Foucher, sister of Chronicle reporter Shawn Foucher.

“My whole place smells like a campfire,” she said. “It smells like smoke — but it’s fabulous to be back.”

Her neighbors were slowly trickling back to the neighborhood too, like Debra Kerrigan, who lives next door to Kristina.
Debra and Kristina described how the fire line on the mountain behind their condominiums came within a stone’s throw of their complex. Most of the mountain, they said, was burned brown, save for a 10-foot barrier at the foothill butting against the condos. 

“I just don’t ever want to go through this again — never,” Kerrigan said. “This time around, it was just too close.”

For some in Rancho Bernardo, one of many San Diego suburbs ravaged by the wildfires, it was more than too close: hundreds of homes were destroyed in that city, Kerrigan said.

A press release posted at 10 a.m. on the San Diego government Web site said residents in some parts of Rancho Bernardo were allowed to return home.

Kristina
Shawn

People in other areas — some with ties to Lorain County — were still being evacuated. Lorain County resident Jay Ross’ daughter,

Sheri Roberts, lives on a 48-acre spread in Escondido, the same city where my sister works.

Ross said Wednesday he talked to his daughter by phone, and she and her family evacuated voluntarily because the orange glow from the wildfires was quickly approaching the home they’d built just a year ago. 

So while some were still fleeing, others were just returning.

“I tried to sneak into this area yesterday,” Kerrigan said. “There were cops everywhere, and the answer was no, you can’t come in.” 

Kristina said she had been wearing the same clothes she left her house in at 5 a.m. Monday, and she was aching to get off the phone and take a shower.

“I talked to one girl, and she said she was evacuated from four different places,” Kristina said. “But our street was actually pretty well spared. North and east of us were not spared as much.

“My heart just goes out to the people who lost their homes,” she said. “That was the worst part of all this. I didn’t know if I’d have a home to come back to — the last image I had in my mind when I left Monday was the mountain ablaze. It was this feeling of doom.”

And then there were the strange moments.

She’d stopped at Qualcomm Stadium on Tuesday for a break, but couldn’t rest because she parked her car in a … bad spot.

“I got there and just wanted to sit and have peace and quiet,” she said. “On one side of me there’s this jazz band playing, and on the other side of me there’s a landing pad for a helicopter.”

So what did she learn from the chaos?

No. 1: “Never forget your cell phone charger.”

No. 2: “Never take things for granted.”

“We take so much for granted — our safety, our health,” she said. “And I just always kind of took for granted that I have a place to sleep every night.”

She got to talking about being homeless for three grueling days, and figured she’ll soon be volunteering at a homeless shelter on a regular basis.

“I can’t say what I experienced even comes close to what homeless people go through,” she said. “I just can’t even equate to that.

But even three days … it makes you have a whole new appreciation.”

Contact Shawn Foucher at 653-6255 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.