For the Bauers and the Leimeters, Christmas this year will be tied to an observance of grim significance: two days after the holiday they will mark the six-month anniversary of the brush fire that destroyed their Glendale houses.
The two couples are anticipating the milestone week with dramatically different emotions.
After a half-year of living in borrowed or rented quarters, Ted and Olive Bauer this week began moving back into their newly rebuilt house on Ridge Drive, just in time for Christmas.
"I'm as anxious as anybody can possibly be. I can hardly stand it. I want my house," said Olive Bauer, a semi-retired nurse, as she prepared to leave the Burbank condominium she and her husband have rented since summer. "We're comfortable here. We're very fortunate to have this place. But there's no place like home."
"The main thing is the kitchen," she added. "Christmas is coming, and I want to bake."
Unlike the Bauers, fire victims Dan and Barbara Leimeter will not be spending Christmas in their hilltop house on Gladys Drive, with its panoramic view of the city. Instead, they will be in a modest apartment overlooking the noisy Ventura Freeway.
After a six-month struggle with insurance officials and building experts, the Leimeters hope to begin reconstruction in February.
"This year I can't get into the holiday spirit," Barbara Leimeter, a nutritional services coordinator at Verdugo Hills Hospital, said. "I don't want to go out shopping. I go into a store and it's crowded--I turn around and walk out."
Dan Leimeter, a projection supervisor at a Hollywood sound studio, is equally glum. "It's surprising," he said. "We're getting Christmas cards from our friends, and we're feeling very guilty because we haven't gone out and bought our Christmas cards yet."
He said the couple would not attend his studio's annual holiday party.
His wife explained: "You get tired of everybody asking, 'Well, how's the house coming?' "
For more than 60 Glendale families whose houses were damaged or destroyed in the June 27 fire, the answer to that question varies widely. In the half-year since the city's worst fire was extinguished, some damaged houses are fully repaired. But on other lots, blackened rubble remains untouched.
The Bauers are among the first to move back into a rebuilt dwelling. Insurance adjusters estimated that 50% to 75% of their house was destroyed in the fire. They were able to rebuild quickly because they received a prompt settlement and used the original design of the house.
The Leimeters had more difficulty getting an insurance reimbursement. Also, they decided to alter the design of their house, which required them to hire professional design help and undergo a more rigorous city review.
They are not alone in encountering delays in getting their house rebuilt or repaired.
By mid-December, the city had issued 12 building permits for repairing or rebuilding houses in the area. Another 13 permit applications from fire victims were under review.
In an informal drive-by survey of the fire-ravaged College Hills, Glenmore Canyon and Chevy Chase Canyon neighborhoods, The Times found 25 lots where a fire-damaged house had been cleared but no reconstruction was under way. Only one lot was posted with a "for sale" sign.
On another 10, extensive fire rubble still had not been removed. In some cases, charred wreckage was still surrounded by yellow police barrier tape. In other cases, the second story or interior of the house appeared to be gutted, and city officials had posted a warning that the structure was "unsafe to occupy."
Reconstruction work was evident at 11 sites. These included new houses where framing had been completed or houses where a partly damaged portion was being repaired.
In a recent report, the Glendale Fire Department estimated that the fire damaged 50% or more of 41 houses. Another 17 dwellings were 10% to 30% damaged. In the remaining cases, the damage was relatively light, limited to burned landscaping or a scorched wall, for example.
Ted and Claire Lamb of Sweetbriar Drive, the first fire victims to obtain a permit to rebuild, had hoped their contractor would finish the interior work and allow them to move in before the end of December.
"We didn't make it," Ted Lamb said this week. "First they said it would be Thanksgiving. We thought it would be Christmas. I'd say it will be another six weeks."
Nver Sepilian, whose main fire insurance policy lapsed because the premium notice was sent to the wrong address, has still not resolved the matter with her agent and is considering a lawsuit. The fire rubble on her Ridge Drive lot still has not been cleared. Her husband, Joseph, who was caught in Kuwait during the invasion by Iraq, escaped safely but lost his interior design business in Kuwait.