Survivors: What is Forever Changed?

The Cedar Fire is part of our community history. For fire survivors, it’s part of their personal history. It’s a distant recollection for some folks, something that happened a long time ago. Others still have vivid memories. Most say the event gave them a new perspective on life. So we asked them: What is one thing about yourself that is forever changed? We thank Lisa Black for offering this thoughtful question and start with her reply.

I focus more on collecting experiences and less on collecting “things.” I travel more often and spend more time with my family. And when I travel, I bring home more photos and less “stuff.”

I realized after the fire that the “things” I missed most were the objects that reminded me of someone or someplace, the things that had stories behind them. So now I know that it’s the stories, not the stuff, that really matter.

Lisa Black

My house.

Ken Klein

It was such a monumental shift in our lives. The fire put everything in perspective. What seemed like a “big deal” was no longer thought of that way.

My thoughts are a bit different in that my husband had just finished nine months of chemo and was about to start his radiation treatments, so my main focus was his health. Everything else is just stuff. The love for your family and friends is what really matters. The friendships forged from the fire are now bonds that cannot be broken. It was that support system from the community that I will never forget and will forever be grateful for.

Rosemary Keane

I think I always had faith in the goodness of people, but after the fire and losing our home, the faith in community was astounding—how people pulled together, helped each other. How those who didn’t lose their homes jumped in and were there for those who did. It was truly amazing.

If you think back…think of how fast things were organized for us to make our lives easier and to get done the multitudes of thing that had to get done in order to move forward. Truly mind-boggling. And as much as our Scripps Ranch community pulled together, all the outside influences San Diego-wide, statewide, and sometimes even nationwide…were fantastic. I’ll never forget that…ever.

Kind of sadly, we should have been a model for other communities and I know we really tried…and in some ways accomplished this by helping others who went through this in the future. However, I, myself, truthfully feel we have the best community ever and I have not seen this fully duplicated in any other disaster. Thank you, Scripps Ranch and San Diego.

Linda Pintarell

I understand the term post-traumatic stress.

Wes Danskin

There are so many significant things that have changed about me. Two of the most significant things are: (1) how I approach my life, which is with much more love, patience, and understanding and much less fear, avoidance, and stress; and (2) how incredibly significant and important my family and friends are in my life. These two items have made my life so much richer, happier, and healthy.

Marsha Linehan

I hesitated to write this reflection about my feelings regarding the Cedar Fire because it really seems like a chapter I have put behind me. “Time heals” is so true. Something, though, kept gnawing at me to write at least a little something about how it affected my life.

Waking up to a dark orange sky seemed surreal. Finding out our house was gone was worse. We lived through it. And one reason we got through it was because so many of our friends and neighbors were all going through it together.

I’m sure many people in their lifetimes have had to deal with more devastating things than losing one’s house in a fire. We’re pretty much over it, but once in a while, a fleeting thought brings a tear to my eye. I just wipe it.

Pat Matthews

When I look back on the 10 years since the fire, it feels somewhat like an out-of-body experience, like someone else and some other family lost their home and all their history. It goes to show that you can create a life for yourself and your family again, you can create depth and make memories and history. You just do that together, as a family, rather than as a single person, or as a newly married couple, or as a new dad and mom.

My husband, John, and I deliberately sought out the input of our son and daughter for our new home. They responded in a very positive manner, which was wonderful, so the “new” house is a true reflection of all of us. So where I thought that life would never be the same again in a negative kind of way, I’ve learned that there truly are different ways of looking at life. It’s up to the individual to turn the negative into the positive.

Sandy Price

I have a feeling that many of us who have lived in Scripps Ranch for 10 years or longer remember the morning of October 26, 2003, with clarity. I can practically see each hour unfolding in my mind’s eye, from the moment I woke up and saw the smoke until the moment we evacuated our home. One of my funnier memories is of putting away the Sunday paper, washing the dishes, and wiping down the breakfast table so that if or when the firefighters came through the house to fight the fire, everything would be neat and tidy. Crazy, huh? Fleeing the fire was the easy part. Lurking around the corner were the insurance and rebuilding “challenges.”

Through all of this, I received many blessings. I thank my lucky stars for my husband, Mike, and his wonderful sense of humor. We both saw this as an adventure. The small condo we rented reminded us of being newlyweds again. And the icing on the cake? During the rebuilding process, many dear friendships were made with people I never would have met if it weren’t for the fire.

Lucky for us, we saved a lot of our photos and belongings; but 10 years later, I still have boxes of “stuff” that haven’t been sorted. Stuff—that’s a word I have come to use a lot. Its importance doesn’t come close to having safety, security, family, love, health, comfort, and friendship. If you have these other things, even losing your home in a fire can be put in perspective. There’s that old saying, “If you have your health, you have everything.”

If the Cedar Fire is the worst thing that happens to me, I am very blessed indeed.

Cheryl Shaw

Ten years ago this October the Cedar Fire surged through Scripps Ranch like the devil itself was alive, and devastated our community financially, morally, personally, spiritually. Our homes were left in ashes while our tears flowed. We were bewildered and confused as we struggled to find the inner strength to deal with insurance companies that didn’t deliver what they advertised, to search for someone to clear the debris from our lots, to find architects and builders, to replace our belongings, and to find somewhere to live.

We found it humbling to be on the receiving rather than the giving end of charity, and to that end we need to remember the generosity of our community and to thank the wonderful volunteers at St. Gregory. I found that I had personal angels there, Kimberly Meyer and Karin Wilson. I will always remember their special kindness to me. Now I wonder if I even had the presence of mind to thank them. I hope I did.

By the end of 2003 Cary Meyer and I had started a new group I called “The Burnouts” and Cary added “Sisters.” Our initial idea was to form a resource group, so as our “sisters” found stores and services that would discount to fire survivors, we would share the information.

Cary and I knew we were too wrapped up in building our own homes to chair the group. We asked Tina Bagnas, a dear friend who had moved and fortunately had not lost her home. She accepted and for months 20 to 60 women met at the library, the community center, or our rented homes. Before we knew it we had new best friends, new homes, and the Home Tour [of rebuilt homes] we sponsored raised more than $17,000 for the Red Cross.

When the 2007 Witch Fire claimed the homes of our neighbors to the north, we realized we had a story to share with those survivors. We met with them in Rancho Bernardo and when I looked at their shell-shocked faces, I saw us. I remember saying to them, “Look around this room. Because somewhere, seated among you, is your new best friend. And someday you will pay forward to other survivors. That’s what we do.” It’s the Scripps Ranch way.

The Burnout Sisters group has sprouted into a book club, a bunco group, and various other activities. Although many of us didn’t know each other before the fire, our friendships have lasted through the past 10 years and will continue as long as we breathe. Isn’t this a blessing? So not everything about the fire was bad.

Another blessing is that our community didn’t go through our loss alone. We found one another rising from the ashes. Our homes are not the Phoenix; the Phoenix is us. Kind regards,

Jan Arbuckle

I was a renter who lost my rental property on Grainwood. As hard as it was and as much as I felt like being a renter made a difference, that was never the case in this neighborhood. Folks came together and supported you whether you were the owner or a renter. I can’t tell you how many people have become my dearest friends as the result of this awful tragedy. This event changed my family’s life in lots of ways but not all were bad. Thank you to all of the people who helped me through this time and are now my best friends.

Jane Rabun

Most of us have been through two evacuations now, and for the second one, I didn’t bother to collect many things—they were all replacements anyway. Most of us know, now, what is irreplaceable. Most of us have a new perspective on what “home” means. We have experienced the very best in people from Scripps Ranch, and the worst from those who wanted to profit from the experience.

Lynda Felder

I am not going to answer the question directly, as I don’t have a precise enough answer. I will offer some comments and things that I have found myself saying through the years.

I always tell people if that is the worst thing that is going to happen to my family in our lifetime, then I will consider myself extremely blessed. Families go through horrific events, and the fire pales in comparison. It is hard for me to call it a tragedy, or tragic event, when my love ones were healthy, and remain healthy. At the end of the day, that is all that truly matters.

The other thing I think people don’t really get is the amount of time in our lives that were lost dealing with the aftermath. The process consumed every thought, and our lives revolved around it for two solid years. That is time we will never get back. I wonder if that is more monumental than the treasured possessions we lost.

The fire taught me that there are so many good caring people. It is unfortunate that the bad seem to get all the attention. The outpouring of love, generosity, and help from so many people was completely heartwarming. There are many more “good” people than there are “bad”!

The experience seems like a lifetime ago, a dream really. It is hard now to imagine it really happened. We are so thankful for our community and cannot picture living anywhere but Scripps Ranch.

Lisa Susca