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California Wildfire Victims Return to Charred Homes

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California Wildfire Victims Return to Charred Homes

California Wildfire Victims Return to Charred Homes

California Wildfire Victims Return to Charred Homes

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When wildfires raced across San Diego County, Calif., this week, people fled their homes and wondered if they would have a place to live when the blazes were extinguished.

Many of them lived in a hard hit northern suburb called Rancho Bernardo.

On Monday, they evacuated before dawn as flames headed their way. They returned on Thursday, just as President Bush dropped in to see the damage for himself.

Jacqueline Johnston had no idea what she would find when she walked into her home.

"I used to make everyone take off their shoes because I have a white carpet," she said. Now, the carpet is soiled by ash, but Johnson's home has escaped with relatively little damage.

I have one broken bedroom but that's it. I am so blessed," Johnston said.

She is also lucky. Fire destroyed 38 out of 52 homes on this cul-de-sac alone. Now that her home is safe, Johnston said she is going to work to help her neighbors.

Johnston, a realtor, said she will help her neighbors find homes to rent.

Leanne Tennant and her 15-year-old daughter, Allie, were renting their home a few miles away.

They had no renter's insurance, and their home burned completely. All they have left are some dishes and the burned-out shell of Leanne Tennant's old sports car.

"It's my MG I bought when I graduated from high school. I was going to restore it again, but, yeah, I drove that car for 18 years," she said.

Leanne Tennant said she is still numb and confused — the grief has not set in, yet. The confusion is understandable when one considers the random nature of the fire. In Tennant's neighborhood, one home is destroyed and three are untouched. There are also homes with partial damage.

Marilynn Askins and her family came home to find their front yard completely blackened.

It's just incredible," Askins said. "I pulled up, and I just went, 'Oh, my God.' You know, there's no way this house could've survived this — and there's hardly any damage at all in the interior. We're very grateful."

The Askins' neighbor, Tony Cardell, lost two cars, but firefighters saved his house.

But Jim Noyce was not as fortunate. His house burned to the ground. He, his wife, Paris, and their 15-year-old son, Gunnar, surveyed the damage on Thursday.

"You know, it's the memories — like those hundred-year old Bibles that weren't protected. Those are gone. You know, all my mom's stuff; all the photos of my son. We don't have any photos of him as a child now. All those handprints in porcelain, all his baby teeth. You know, it's all gone," Jim Noyce said.

Their son was still wearing the pajamas he had on when his dad was getting ready for work before dawn Monday. A neighbor knocked on the door. The winds were 70 mph and the flames were 100 feet in the air.

"I came out and everyone was screaming. The fire wasn't playing fair. It was going sideways It was coming over the hill like a wave. It was like the sun was touching the earth — (that) was what it was like. It was a nightmare," Noyce said.

Noyce said he cried over what was his family's first house.

"We just bought the home on August 28," he said. "We just bought it, and so I made my first payment on October 1, and we moved into our dream home. It was beautiful.

But Noyce said there is a lesson in the destruction.

"Never in the world did I think something like this would happen," he said. "Sunday, we're making dinner. Everything's fine. We're watching the Malibu fires on TV and feeling for them. And the very next day, you're left homeless with nothing. That quick, it can change for you. That's a lesson for everyone."

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