San Diego Recalls Red Winds of October

Nearly 500,000 were evacuated in 2007 Firestorm

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Two years ago on Wednesday, a series of wildfires began that burned more than 350,000 acres and forced a half-million people from their homes.

    The deadly Harris Fire burned northwest from near the border into San Diego. It cost taxpayers more than $28 million to fight.

    The Witch, Guejito and Rice fires burned areas north and northeast of San Diego, costing taxpayers nearly $20 million to fight. The Witch Fire was the second biggest ever in the county, exceeded only by the Cedar Fire in 2003, which is the biggest fire in California's history. Rancho Bernardo was hit particularly hard, with 365 homes destroyed.
       
    "We were fully packed and ready to go by 3 a.m., and the fire hit the transformer, and the lights went out, and we were in the car at that point," said Bev Zirkle, whose home built on 14 acres near the top of Starvation Mountain, east of Rancho Bernardo, was destroyed.

    Now, a photo is all that remains of her home, which had beautiful vistas in almost every direction, which would have given them a perfect view of the flames as they raced toward her home.

    Zirkle said that at the time, she and her husband were too busy packing to even think about the flames.

    "You know, you had to get these things, and there wasn't time to think about anything else," Zirkle said on Wednesday.

    The couple drove six miles to safety, but a neighbor and her husband could not.

    "Apparently, they opened the garage door, and it just took over, and so they lost their lives," Zirkle said.

    The Zirkles decided not to rebuild. Instead, they bought a home in Rancho Bernardo, with a view of the golf course. She said they're happy, even though it's a very different life.

    "Our only noise was helicopters and airplanes, and now we're learning to live with cars," Zirkle said.

    She said she really doesn't care about all the possessions they lost in the home on Starvation Mountain.

    "It was easier because we didn't die, and the others did," Zirkle said. "I mean, who cares about that stuff?"

    Many of the homes in San Diego have been rebuilt, but, for a variety of reasons -- not enough insurance, escalating building costs, the difficulty of getting a loan -- many still have not.

    At one point during the firestorm, nearly 500,000 residents were under mandatory orders to evacuate. According to CalFire, 10 people were killed in the firestorm, and more than 1,300 homes were destroyed by the fires.