For the second time in just over a month, Sylmar citizens experienced an uncontrolled firestorm this weekend that ended tragically with the loss of hundreds of homes, most notably in the beautiful Oakridge Mobile Home Park at the end of Glenoaks Boulevard in Sylmar, California.
Late Friday night (11/14/08), I stood with neighbors in front of my own home in the Saddletree Ranch area of Sylmar’s Rancho Cascades watching the huge flames move rapidly up the hillside approximately 4 miles away. A neighbor’s son had evacuated his home near the origin point around 10:20 p.m., so we knew the approximate distance. At that time we estimated the flames to be at least 100-200 feet high.
While standing in the street deciding on our own to evacuate, the wind was blowing so hard to the West that it literally moved me several steps backward. High wind is not new to Sylmar, one of the few areas in the San Fernando Valley where smog rarely settles, and where hang gliders have frolicked since 1969. But this wind was truly a Santana — a Devil wind.
Fortunately our neighborhood was spared, due in no small part to the efforts of courageous firefighters and peace officers, and a valiant neighbor who stayed with his home and dowsed embers flying and igniting the common area behind his house. I returned home late Saturday evening hoping to talk my way back in with a plea to let my dog poop in her own yard. I didn’t have to charm my way in; evacuation orders were lifted just moments before.
Sadly, here are the people I know personally who lost their homes at the Oakridge Mobile Home Park:
– A neighbor and friend who recently sold her home in Saddletree Ranch to move to a brand new home in Oakridge …
– A decorated veteran of Vietnam, who cheerfully poured coffee at the local VFW after learning of his own personal loss, saying his evacuation at Oakridge was like being in “Dante’s Inferno…”
– A lovely family whose Mom and young daughter are faithful Adopt-A-Plot volunteers at Pioneer Cemetery on the third Saturday of every month, …whose Mom & Dad also lost their home at Oakridge…
We may not ever know the whole story behind this tragic fire. While standing in the street with neighbors, it occurred to me that several things need to become routine:
1) Power lines must be secured underground. Many fires are the result of fallen power lines. The local Sylmar-Sesnon fire in October was officially determined to be caused by a downed power line.
2) Every citizen should learn and understand how to fight a fire. Our professionals do the job best, but a helpful hand with some knowledge can make a difference. If we learned anything from Katrina, it’s that government help isn’t the only answer in times of emergency.
3) Personal 5-minute warning evacuation plans need to be done and not put into a “Round Tu It” file or stay a secret to everyone in the family. Do it now…the Big One may be our next challenge.
As a result of this tragic fire, Sylmar real estate along the foothills has probably suffered in terms of desirability, and many potential buyers will shy away from homes in this area. That means homes for sale will be on the market longer, and bank-owned foreclosure homes may have to take another dip in price before they are off the books. This will cause a temporary blip in Sylmar real estate, so patience will be necessary.
I wonder: Will the owner of Oakridge really rebuild, or sell out to a developer?