California Wildfire Raises Havoc

JANUARY 2004
- Many Mass. Retirees In Area - More than 100,000 people across Southern California were evacuated
from their homes as wildfires surprised residents and ravaged suburban
neighborhoods the last week in October and early November. Over 2,800
homes were destroyed and more than 750,000 acres - an area equivalent
to over 500 square miles were turned to ashes in what was one of the
area's worst wildfires ever. Twenty-two people died and there was over
$10 billion dollars in property damage. The fire, driven by high winds,
and dry hot weather, traveled from Los Angeles south to the Mexican
border.

Our Association has several
hundred members living in Southern California, many in the path of the
fire. Here is a sampling of their stories:

Mary Pietrzykowski -
A 79 year old widow, whose husband retired from UMass, moved to
Escondido, California 2 years ago from Florence, Mass. to be near her
only daughter and her husband who live in the same development. "My
daughter burst through the door yesterday, and said, 'Mom get packed
and get the car ready we're going to have to leave.' We were all packed
and ready to go to her girlfriend's house 50 miles away. When all of a
sudden, the wind shifted, and we were no longer in danger. The sky is
cloudy all day, and the smell of wood burning is all around us. The
smoke and soot affects your throat and lungs, but even so we still
consider ourselves very lucky indeed."

Charles 'Chick' Carter -
A 96 year young retiree from the Boston Highway and Bridges Department,
he moved to the Simi Valley, 30 years ago with his wife, Lily, who died
4 years ago. They were married for 71 years and originally from South
Boston. Chick said, "The soot and dust is all over the place. The sky
is a big dark cloud, but today it seems to be moving south. The smell
is terrible. Although the fire is about 10 miles away, they tell us to
stay put until otherwise directed. Lucky for me, because I'm not too
agile anyway. This is worse than anything I've ever seen or smelled
back home is Southie."

Lynn Reagan -
Retired as executive director of Framingham Teacher's Association, Lynn
has been out in San Diego since 1996. "I was on vacation at Avila
Beach, near Monterey, when the fire began. It is 250 miles from my home
to San Diego. I could not get back home because the freeways were
closed that take you to San Diego. I didn't know whether I had a home
or not. To make matters worse my daughter lives near Qualcomm Stadium,
where the San Diego Chargers play and they were sending all of the
people who had to evacuate their homes there. The fire came to within a
couple of miles of her home, but fortunately no damage. She had to
close her business, as did others. Most of the schools were also
closed."

Jim Connolly -
Retired from the Suffolk County House of Correction, he has been living
in San Diego for 15 years. "I'll tell you how bad it was. It hasn't
rained for 6 months. The wind was warm to hot and came from the east
(desert) traveling at 40 miles per hour, it came within 2 miles of my
apartment house. A friend of mine lost his Mercedes Benz from the fire.
The smoke was almost unbearable. You couldn't go anywhere to escape the
fire. I thought we would have to vacate, but the wind began to subside.
There were 10 fires going at once. The one closest to me, they believe
was arson and set by 2 men. One of the persons living in my apartment
house is from Lynn. Another is from Newburyport and we really miss New
England."

Patricia Garrigan -
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Patricia teaches in San Diego. She
has relatives in Massachusetts and regularly reads our web site. Her
home is in Upland Californa and the fire came within a quarter mile of
wiping her out. "The hot embers were flying everywhere, on the roof,
the garage, all over. The sky was completely red from the flames. The
ash covered everything. It was impossible to keep it out of the inside
of the home. You could see footprints everywhere, inside, outside and
continued for miles. The biggest difficulty we're all experiencing now
is respiratory problems. The soot and ash at first looked like snow...
I do feel blessed not to have lost my home."

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