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Carlsbad Residents Return; Some Find Their Homes Burned Down

Evening Edition

Above: People returned to their homes and businesses in Carlsbad on Thursday after evacuation orders were lifted, and Wednesday's Poinsettia Fire was more than 50 percent contained. KPBS reporter Megan Burks and video journalist Katie Schoolov returned with some of them, as they assessed the damage.

Aired 5/16/14 on KPBS News.

Carlsbad residents were let back into their homes Thursday after fire crews snuffed the Poinsettia fire down.

Flames leapt into Jeff Knutzen's dental practice shortly after the Poinsettia Fire broke out in a nearby canyon.

The Poinsettia Fire crawled through finger canyons throughout the La Costa Greens neighborhood of Carlsbad, charring 400 acres.

Little is left of Gregory Saksa's Carlsbad home, which burned in the Poinsettia Fire May 14, 2014.

Carlsbad residents were let back into their homes Thursday after fire crews snuffed the Poinsettia fire down to 60 percent containment overnight.

By sunrise, fire crews from as far away as Monterey and the Central Valley had arrived in Carlsbad to keep an eye on hotspots. The blackened canyons and calm winds were a welcome change from the swirling flames that ripped through 22 homes and two commercial structures Wednesday.

Carlsbad police said the fire originated in a canyon off of El Camino Real and Cassia Road. The flames leapt up into a dental practice, forcing firefighters to break the windows out.

Dentist Jeff Knutzen said he had patients in his chairs when an employee saw smoke and fire climbing up the canyon.

"As I took a looked, the flames were heading west rapidly. So we encouraged all of the patients and employees to get out and evacuate immediately," Knutzen said. "In about two minutes everyone was out and everyone got out safely."

Less than a quarter-mile away on Skinner Court, there was another close call.

"Black smoke appeared coming our way and about a half an hour, 45 minutes later they knocked on our door and said you have to leave," Gregory Saksa said. "They said, 'The fire is coming your way and it's going to be deadly. You have to leave.'"

The devastation Saksa returned to was much worse. The adobe home his mother passed down to him after 30 years had been reduced to rubble, some of it still smoldering.

"It's really upsetting to me because this is the home of her life," Saksa said. "I'm going to have to do the best I can to get the money back so I can rebuild it."

Carlsbad resident Gregory Saksa inspects the remains of his home, destroyed by the Poinsettia fire on Wednesday.

For now, Saksa will hole up in a garage on the property. The accommodation is rough, but possible, thanks to a small miracle today.

"What is that?" he asked a friend who was sifting through the home's remains. "It's the Mercedes keys!"

His front door was ash, but the car keys he hung next to it were still there. They key would give him access to his only remaining car. In the trunk was oil that would enable him to power up a portable generator, which he'll use to set up a makeshift kitchen in the garage and make the space livable.

"Here's what we were after. And we got the keys. Hallelujah!" he said after struggling to turn the blackened, partially melted key in the lock.

Saksa said he plans to call around about receiving aid to rebuild his home. But first, Saska said he'd cook up his first meal in more than 24 hours. Adrenaline had kept him from eating.

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