Some of the Carlsbad families living near Black Rail Road that lost homes on Wednesday to the firestorm were able to go back and sift through the ashes, trying to salvage the pieces of their lives they could find.
One family even recovered their dog who, despite being singed, made it out of the fire-damaged home alive.
At the end of a very long shared driveway were two houses, homes that were no longer standing, homes with memories, homes that had pictures on the walls, and families that lived in both. In all, four single-family homes burned, as did 18 units in an apartment complex.
One of the homes was owned by an older couple with two grown sons. Next door, in the other home that was lost, lived the Payne family, whose members displayed a perspective so generous that others may find it difficult to emulate.
On Thursday, Troy Payne was playing treasure hunter.
“I think a lot has survived – you just gotta dig deep,” Troy said, going through what was left of his aunt and uncle’s home.
The Payne house at 3256 Black Rail Road was Bob and Sophie Payne’s dream house. They built it, and hosted their daughter’s wedding reception there last weekend. And then, on a windy Wednesday, after returning from helping family, they watched it burn virtually to the ground.
“We got this house brand new, and we had planned on living our lives here forever,” Bob told NBC 7.
On Thursday, finding which room was which was tough enough, but finding anything worth salvaging was much more challenging. The family, though, has already experienced a few small miracles, like when they found their dog, Rocky, who was trapped in the house but was found alive.
“So he was in the back yard, and thank God he didn’t get hurt,” Bob said. “He was just real singed.”
More miracles – a World War I helmet and some baseball cards that Troy unearthed. For Bob, a retired city bus driver, the helmet and a beer stein now are near but not quite at the top of his list of possessions.
“We found some old photos here, and there’s our safe that I wish I could say is full of money, but it’s just full of papers,” Bob said, grinning.
Even among so much destruction all around them, the smoke still rising around them, there was no doubt where the family’s true treasure was buried.
“We’re just blessed to have everybody healthy,” Bob said.
“Everything burns up in the end – as long as you have a relationship with your family and God, that’s the only thing that matters,” Tory added.
It’s a long road ahead -- certainly many San Diegans have been down that road. The Paynes know all that’s in front of them, but this is one family that we can all say, definitively, will make it and come out, perhaps, even stronger.