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Fire Destroys Southland Homes

December 19, 1988

Picture it--Granada Hills, Dec. 9, 5 a.m., awakened by the strong smell of smoke. Check for a fire in the house--nothing. Look out the bathroom window. Almost in shock, we cannot believe what we see. The entire sky is a brilliant red, flames everywhere up in the hills. Oh my God, maybe closer than that--looks like it's in our back yard. Smoke and ash pouring through the window. Outside it's raining fire.

Try to stay calm, wake the kids, get the youngest one dressed. Tell the oldest one to pretend it's a fire drill, just like at school, stay calm and get ready to go. Sit them down and put "Dumbo" on the VCR while we go outside to try and see where we stand. We decide not to leave yet. I run back and forth putting things in the car while Paul tries to get up on the roof to wet it down. He can't get up there, the winds are much too strong. He tries to water it from the ground. Can't see, can't breathe; put wet rags over our mouths.

Run back inside to check kids. They're OK.

We climb up to the vacant lot behind our house and watch as embers ignite a back-yard juniper bush just two houses up from ours. Continue to watch as two kids take a hose and put the fire out. We notice some firefighters at the ready in case that hill over there goes up. See what seems like dozens of helicopters flying overhead. My daughter cries when she hears them. I tell her be glad, don't cry, they are putting out the fire. We watch in horror as the hills to the north and west burn out of control.

I stand in the closet and cry, wondering do I have enough room in the car for all the Christmas presents for the kids. If my house is destroyed, wouldn't it be nice for the children to still have some presents? From my overlook I can see fire trucks lining the next ridge. From the end of my street I can see them two blocks away.

As it starts to get light I feel some of the terror ebbing. I begin to realize that the worst is over for us. Getting TV reports now of Porter Ranch and realize that the worst is still raging for them. Too many overwhelming feelings all at once now--terrible sorrow for people who have lost everything, nagging fear that the wind will change and blow the flames back toward us, extreme gratitude that our house was left standing, realization that it was nothing more than luck that it was still standing.

And eternal thanks to the Los Angeles Fire Department and all the other fire companies that were on the scene so quickly. I thank you for my life and the lives of my husband and children. You have done a magnificent job and I am forever in awe of your bravery.

PEGGIE NEEDLEMAN

Granada Hills

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