Cedar Fire Cleanup in Cuyamaca (2004)

Eight mountain community residents got a chance this month to witness the devastation done by the Cedar Fire in San Diego County last October – and also to lend a hand to those affected by the disaster. All members and volunteers of the Idyllwild, Pine Cove and Pinyon-area Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, they spent Dec. 9 and 10, 2003 cutting down and helping to remove about 50 burned trees that posed a danger to vehicles using roadways and to people working near burned out structures.

The group included Lee Salgren, Tom McCullough, Don Patterson, Ron Perry, Doris Lombard and Viv Larson (all residents of Idyllwild and Pine Cove) and Ron and Jeri Bowles who live in Pinyon Crest. Their efforts centered in Cuyamaca Woods, a 660-acre residential community about 13 miles southwest of Julian. The community was one of the areas hardest hit by the fire which resulted in 10 deaths and burned more than 500,000 acres and is considered the largest-ever California wildfire.

Only 13 of the 230 homes in Cuyamaca Woods survived the fire. One of them belonged to Lynette Hoffman Perry, Ron Perry’s sister. Perry said that he and the others in the Council group were astounded by the “amazing attitude” they witnessed of the people who lost their homes in the fire.”We were standing with them in the rubble of their homes. They had lost everything. Yet they all said they are determined to rebuild. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had,” he said.

Using their own chainsaws and accessory equipment, the Council group delimbed the trees they felled and cut them into rounds. When it was time to take a lunch break, they had another chance to observe the spirit of the people in the area. “The congregation of a neighborhood church was providing three meals a day to residents, firefighters and anyone who wanted to come in,” Salgren said. Provided at a local fire station, the meals were free to all, he noted, adding that the church group had been doing this since the fire ended several weeks earlier.

Some of the stories the group heard from residents about their losses were heart rending, both Perry and Salgren said. These included one man who lost all five of the antique cars he owned, includinga 1973 Mercedes Benz that was one of only 400 ever built in the world. Another man saw his stone house burn down. A violin restorer, he saved the violins he owned but lost his entire collection of sheet music and the tools he used to repair the instruments. Both men marveled at the intense heat that the fire generated. In one case, it turned a steel girder into a pretzel-like shape and in another, melted a so-called fire-proof safe.

“We got a lot of thank yous,” Salgren said, “but we couldn’t help but be saddened by what we saw.”