The people who were left homeless by the College Hills fire have had varying degrees of success in rebuilding. The Times has followed the struggles of several fire victims during the past year. Here's a progress report and some of their thoughts on the first anniversary of the fire.
Last Christmas, Dan and Barbara Leimeter were still staring at their bare lot on Gladys Drive. After a struggle with their insurance company and disagreements with building consultants, Dan Leimeter took over the design chores himself.
Today, the framing work is nearly done, and the couple may be able to move in by September. "It is paying off in that the house we're building is turning out to be just as beautiful in real life as it was on paper," Leimeter said. "We were very lucky in that we got a builder who is imaginative and just a joy to work with."
Still, financial concerns remain. The insurance that covers their apartment rent will run out July 1. The Leimeters are using their insurance settlement, some savings and a federal low-interest loan to build the new house. But when it's finished, there will be little money left to furnish it.
"We'll be sitting on egg crates for some time, but it will be a nice house," Leimeter said.
Carl W. Raggio III and his wife, Susan, were ready to start building a larger house on their Foxkirk Drive lot in January, but they had not settled with their insurance company. "We had to hire an attorney," Susan Raggio said. "We didn't actually sue, but we came pretty close. We settled for less than we wanted to, but we finally got it worked out."
The framing of the new house is almost finished, and the family hopes to move in by Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, the family continues to live in a rented house. The insurance company, which had been paying for rental furnishings, cut off those funds and insisted that the Raggios use some of their settlement money for such necessities.
"We had to buy a whole houseful of furniture for eight people without knowing how the new house would look," Susan Raggio said.
Memories of the fire still linger. Jennifer Raggio, 14, who was baby-sitting when it broke out and helped save her infant siblings, was asked in English class to write about an event that changed her life.
"She spent three nights crying while she was writing," her mother said. "It was a minute-by-minute account of the fire and her feelings about those moments. It's really very beautiful."
The fire heightened Susan and Carl Raggio's concern for their children's safety. When a blaze broke out recently near their rental house, the Raggios rushed home from work to check on their youngsters.
The College Hills fire also led Susan Raggio to leave her job as a corporate banker in Century City. She has opened a child-care consulting business in Glendale to be closer to her family.
The Raggios planned to turn today's fire anniversary into a family holiday. "We'll probably all go over to the new house and have a picnic," Susan Raggio said. "From now on, June 27 is going to be 'Celebration of Life Day' for the Raggio family."
Nver Sepilian, who lost a house on Ridge Drive, is also trying to maintain an upbeat outlook. But her fire woes are far from resolved.
Sepilian said she was unaware that her primary insurance policy had lapsed because the premium notice was sent to the wrong address.
She had previously lost two houses to bombing and looting in Beirut. Another house in Kuwait was ransacked during the Iraqi invasion last year. Because of the missing payment, her insurance company would not pay for the loss of her Glendale home.
Sepilian tried to collect on her insurance agent's errors and omissions policy, claiming that the agent mishandled the policy. When her calls went unheeded, Sepilian hired a lawyer.
The attorney, William Rosensweig, said he reached a settlement with the carrier in May. But, he added, "the amount was not sufficient to cover the rebuilding of the structure because she had to pay her attorney's fees."
Sepilian is still responsible for mortgage payments on the destroyed house and needs about $300,000 to rebuild. Rosensweig is now talking to the woman's lender about new financing. He said he hopes to avert a foreclosure.
Meanwhile, Sepilian and her four children are renting a three-bedroom condominium in Montrose, awaiting a resolution. Her eldest son, Saro, 20, had to drop out of USC and take a job because the family could no longer afford the tuition.
The condominium rent is $1,250 per month, and the family has been unable to make the $2,300 mortgage payments on the destroyed house for the past four months.
Sepilian's husband, Joseph, has returned to Kuwait to revive his business and work on post-war reconstruction projects. She said the family hopes for a financial turnaround that will allow them to rebuild.
"We are praying," she said. "If it is God's will that we rebuild it, we will find a way to work it out with the bank."