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Six Months Later, Fire Survivors Fight to Become Homeowners Again

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Six months after the fire, displaced survivors are still struggling to put their lives together. KPBS Reporter Nicole Lozare spent some time with two families in Ramona -- one of the most hard hit places during the 2007 wildfires. Both families owned their own homes before the fires, but now it's doubtful they will ever be able to own again.

Lynda Sparks is a single mother with eight children. Before the fires, her family lived in a house that she owned outright. Her yard was spacious and her home was just the way she liked it.

Today, Sparks and her eight children live in a rented home full of mismatched furniture. There's a couch from a friend's church. Tupperware from someone else's kitchen. They keep inheriting and replacing television sets that barely work.

Lynda Sparks tries every day but she can't wake up from what feels like a nightmare. Her life seems like a series of Catch-22s.

Sparks: It's really hard for me to get a loan because I'm on disability, and all those things. SBA didn't want to help me. I had insurance so FEMA can't do much. I'm right in the middle of nothing and our lives were great before.

Down at the fire recovery center, Marianne Williams, a single mother with two special needs kids has come to check in with case managers. She now lives in a two-bedroom rental apartment. She used to own a large, manufactured home with a nice yard.

Williams: I'm feeling a little bit of loss of hope. But not really wanting to give into that... I'm tired, I'm worn out.

Talking to the two women, they repeat similar mantras.They keep declaring out loud that it's got to get better soon.

The truth is, financially, this fire has set them back decades. Both are still fighting with insurance. They don't have enough to rebuild what they had before.

Lynda Sparks, the mother of eight, says it feels like a full-time job to get back the feeling of home that her family lost.

Sparks: When I was living there I always thought that granite counters and all this would be wonderful, and I'm living in that now. It's a nice home that I'm renting. You know, they've almost got an acre of land. It's nice, but it doesn't make a difference it's not home yet. It's not ours.

Three family members share each bedroom in Lynda's rented house. Her son Alex says it just doesn't feel like home.

Alex: I was just thinking about it today. I smelled something and it smelled like my old house. And it made me start thinking it's never going to be the same again. People pick up and move on and we're a strong-willed family but it's never going to be the same again.

Back at the fire recovery center, Marianne Williams, the single mother of two children, looks tired and on edge.

 

Williams: Some things that happen bring a lot of joy. It's just still falling short. I'm still falling short to getting back to something resembles normal. It takes times, it takes a lot of time. I don't think people realize how much time it takes to recover from something like that.  

These two women agree that a final place to call home is still hard to picture. But their children believe in their mothers' fortitude.

Sydney is Marianne William's six-year-old daughter.

Reporter: Do you miss having a house?

Sydney: No, just want the old house. It burnt down and I liked it. Mommy's going to get me a house like that again. 

For now, Lynda Sparks and Marianne Williams see little hope of buying a home of their own any time soon.

Nicole Lozare, KPBS News.

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