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Many Fire Evacuees Returning to Find Houses Intact, Others Aren't So Lucky

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As firefighters get a little help from the weather, some residents are now returning to their evacuated neighborhoods. For some the news is bad, but most are finding their homes intact. Reporter Tamar

Many Fire Evacuees Returning to Find Houses Intact, Others Aren't So Lucky

(Photo: Tony Heinrichs looks over the damage to his fire ravaged home in the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood. Eric Thayer/Getty Images )
As firefighters get a little help from the weather, some residents are now returning to their evacuated neighborhoods.  For some the news is bad, but most are finding their homes intact.  Reporter Tamara Keith has the story of residents returning to Rancho Bernardo.

Some 300 homes were destroyed in Rancho Bernardo, just charred masses with fireplaces rising above the ashes. But in many cases, right next door, homes stand tall, unharmed. City Councilman Brian Meinschien has toured the damaged neighborhoods.

Meinschien:  I mean it's really random in a lot of places. You just don't know why one house is standing and one house isn't. You know there's streets where the homes are pretty much identical and some of them burned and some of them didn't and there's no rhyme or reason to it. 

As word spread that some Rancho Bernardo neighborhoods would be re-opening residents gathered in parking lots and on street corners near police blockades, waiting for the official go ahead. 

Evacuee: We're going to leave and go that way so you can follow us to where you're at. So if you're on this side of the Rancho Bernardo Inn, you should be able to get into your home. But we're moving up that way.

Susan Berwin and her husband Jay, were among the first to re-enter Oaks North, a senior citizens community in Rancho Bernardo. And they found their home fully intact.

Berwin:  Everything is exactly as we left it 5:00 Monday morning.

Keith:  Is your stress level reduced now?

Jay Berwin: I'd say it is. 

Susan Berwin: He's been a bear to live with now for the last 72 hours so I am very happy that this is over because he's been horrible. His stress level was way up.

Jay Berwin: It was the fear of not knowing. If you knew your house burned down or it didn't but without the knowledge of what the status is, is the toughest part.

A few blocks away Karen Storm pulled banker boxes from the trunk of her white Volvo.

Storm:  These are all of the important documents as far as I could remember to bring.

Storm was visibly relieved to be moving her prized belongings back home.

Storm:  It feels wonderful. Home's never looked this good. We were going to remodel and now I don't care whether we do that or not. It doesn't make any difference to me now. I just want to be here and take it all in.  It's been tough.

Storm says she's thankful, but her emotions are torn. Her niece's home was destroyed. This is a drama that will be played out thousands of times as evacuated residents return to their homes, or what's left of them.

For KPBS, I'm Tamara Keith.

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