Tag Archives: recovery

Six Years…

It’s hard to believe that six years have passed since the Station Fire destroyed much of Big Tujunga Canyon. It has been six hard years, full of drama, loss, tears and laughter. Some people have moved away. Some have shuffled off the mortal coil. New people have moved into the canyon. And some have rebuilt or are rebuilding.

Every year (except last year), I have thrown a memorial BBQ in honor of the Station Fire. What can I say? It appeals to my twisted sense of humor to char meats, fruit and vegetables in memory of the worst wildfire in Los Angeles County history.

Here are some photos from this year’s BBQ. Hopefully you will join us next year!




Instant party. Just add people!
Instant party. Just add people!
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Wildfires in Northern California

Just yesterday I posted an article talking about the difficulties in recovering from the Station Fire. A couple of hours later I learned via Facebook that a cousin of mine has lost her home and her animal rescue in the Boles Fire in Weed, CA. Talk about striking close to home…

Gabby and her family are among over 1500 people left homeless by the Boles Fire. As of this writing, news agencies are reporting over 100 structures lost in the wind-driven fire that started yesterday afternoon. Several family members, including me and my mom, have sent money so my cousin and her family can get what they need at the moment, but with so much destruction they are going to need help for weeks and months to come.


Five years and a lifetime ago…

Although five years isn’t really a long time, it seems as though the world is a very different place today compared to what it was on August 1, 2009. Objectively, I know that I have changed far more than the world around me, but subjectively there are times when I feel like a stranger in my own life. Things that I thought would never change have changed, and still other things I thought I could depend on have been lost forever.

For those of us who live (or lived) in the Angeles Forest, the Station Fire is more than a few lines in history. It was a cusp, a pivotal point beyond which nothing is the same. The fire itself was horrific, raging through the chaparral-covered hillsides with a vengeance like something out of the Old Testament. It destroyed old forest growth, wildlife, homes and lives. And I’m not just speaking of the two firefighters who died in the fire. In the five years since the Station Fire at least three Angelenos have died, one by suicide.

And I am not the only who feels altered, different from who we were before. Over and over again, as survivors have met and shared and bonded around this shared disaster experience, I have heard the same sentiments expressed, the same sense of otherness described. It is part of our bond, and something that we can accept in each other without question or judgement.

Rebuilding, where it has happened at all, has been slow and spotty. None of the homes lost on National Forest lands can be rebuilt, and few residents on privately owned lands have been able to return and rebuild. Red tape and inter-agency turf wars have made a daunting task nearly impossible for more than a few, and the process has been wearing for everyone who has made the effort.

Five years after the Station Fire I am still wrestling with the reality that the forest I knew is never going to be the same. The trees are different, the wildlife is different, the riverbed is very different, even the quality of the light and air is different. Sometimes different is not a bad thing, but in this case the differences are constant reminders of what was lost. Those differences are sometimes so great that it seems as though the forest I knew was a place where I lived in another life.


Time flies whether it’s fun or not

Angeles National Forest Sign Burning in the Station FireI can’t believe that four years have passed. It seems like the Station Fire happened just a moment ago, and that my life before the fire belonged to someone else. And I’m one of the lucky ones… My house didn’t burn.

As August descends once more I look back on what was lost, what remains, and what has begun to be restored or rebuilt. I remember how fiercely I felt about the forest before the fire swept through it. I remember how tentative and fearful I became afterwards. I remember the hollow feeling I had in my heart when I lived in exile, renting a house in the West Valley while my home was boarded up and empty because the fear of debris flows kept me away.

Even now, years after returning, I am still disoriented. I still can’t find things in my house because so many things were moved by others and put away in different places. I cannot imagine how others feel, my friends and one-time neighbors who truly did lose everything to the Inferno.

It’s not all bad, though. The forest continues to restore itself in terms of foliage and furry critters. (The ground squirrels have run rampant and unchecked for so long that they’ve gotten plague again. Hopefully that will kill them off, but I digress…)

People are finally building and rebuilding in the Canyon, but progress has been slow, and it seems that even the most stubborn folk are losing their will to return. It is still difficult for me to walk to Wildwood and see all the empty lots where quirky houses and so many wonderful trees once stood. It’s lonely, too. There used to be so many dogs to visit along that walk. Now there are only two, and one of them isn’t very sociable.

I guess that’s the problem with August. The Anniversary always makes me nostalgic and wistful, remembering and grieving for things lost and people who have moved away. I know it will pass and I will get on with my life, going to work, paying my bills, and trying to improve on things as best I can. That’s what we all do, wherever we are. That’s what life requires of us.

So once more I will face August, host my Memorial BBQ and invite my fellow survivors to gather in the forest to share our memories and stories of things past and present. It’s what I do to cope, to face the emptiness. It never goes completely away, that emptiness, but that doesn’t mean I let it rule me.

For I have promises to keep….




Three Years After the Inferno

Three years ago the Station Fire destroyed my neighborhood.

I remember it as if it all happened five minutes ago. I got up just after sunrise, went out to my back yard and looked to the East, toward Grizzly Flats, the Angeles Crest Highway, and the plume of smoke that had dominated my every thought for days.

The Station Fire by night, before the inferno came. Photo by Mark Fitzsimmons.

The fire had started on August 26 near a ranger station on the Crest, less than ten miles away as the crow flies. By day the smoke rose, staining the sky with its brownish-gray plume. By night we could see the glow of the fire, sitting like a baleful hell-beast, waiting to pounce. For days the news talked about the threat the fire posed for JPL and Mt. Wilson, and for days the residents of Big Tujunga Canyon and other parts of the Angeles watched and waited, hoping that the fire would be taken seriously and dealt with accordingly. Continue reading →