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The Anderson-Goldsworthy Family : During the Coming Months, We'll Chronicle Their Trials by Fire as They Struggle to Rebuild Their Home and Lives

OUT OF THE ASHES: Help for homeowners in fire-ravaged neighborhoods. One in an occasional series.

January 02, 1994|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; O'Neill is a Los Angeles free - lance writer

Scanning the mountains for smoke has long been an integral part of Nancy Goldsworthy's routine. The Pasadena native and life-long veteran of canyon living in dry Southern California has always accepted the threat of fire.

In fact, Goldsworthy, 45, remembers many occasions during her childhood and later when approaching flames forced her and her Pasadena Glen neighbors to evacuate the enclave of older homes and cabins tucked beneath a thick canopy of trees and foliage at the base of the San Gabriel mountains.

But it wasn't until 1975 that the nightmare of fire became reality for her. However, a faulty floor furnace--not mother nature--sparked that blaze, which consumed the house, devoured photos and destroyed irreplaceable mementos.

That was the first time.

"I never thought lightening would strike twice," Goldsworthy, an architect, said recently. "But it did."

On Oct. 27, flames from the Altadena fire raced through the Pasadena-adjacent neighborhood in unincorporated Los Angeles County, destroying 28 of 33 Pasadena Glen homes, hers included.

"We look and sound like whole people," Goldsworthy said recently of her husband, their daughter and her son from a previous marriage. "But we're really shells. We're brain dead from all the trauma and disassociation from familiar routines, habits and accouterments of life. There's so many disorienting things."

It was just after 5 a.m. on Oct. 27 when Bob Anderson, Goldsworthy's husband, awakened. The power was out.

Anderson, a building contractor, got up to check the electrical breaker. But when he stepped outside, he noticed the rest of the Glen, as residents call the neighborhood, was dark as well. Then he glanced toward the mountain ridges.

"I could see the glow from the fire," Anderson said. "I just remember how eerie it was--big enough to see but far enough away not to feel imminent danger."

Strangely, he said, there were no wailing sirens from fire and rescue vehicles, only silence.

Anderson told Goldsworthy, who immediately ran out to look for herself. The fire was to the west of the Glen, and all the mountain fires she had witnessed had burned west. She hoped that would be the case this time too.

"I called a couple friends in the Glen just to warn them," Goldsworthy said. "Then I got the pictures that were scattered around in different places and loaded them in the car. I said to Bob, 'Am I being stupid getting this stuff? Am I paranoid because the house burned down once before?' "

But both agreed to err on the side of caution.


Meanwhile, the electricity returned and the couple's daughter, Calista, then 22 months old, awakened and was content to watch "Sesame Street" as Mom and Dad undertook the difficult task of choosing what to save and what to leave. Goldsworthy's son, Jeff Hackett, 14, had moved out a few months earlier to live with his father and step family in Arcadia.

"During the last fire, I kept thinking, if only I had five minutes to get the stuff," Goldsworthy said. "And we had probably more than an hour (this time) and it still wasn't enough time."

At first it went smoothly. They quickly began packing up family photos, important documents, Anderson's company papers and his construction tools. But as the flames became more threatening, their efficiency gave way to disarray and forgetfulness:

They grabbed their good, but easy-to-replace clothing instead of their comfortable favorites. Goldsworthy took a pony saddle but overlooked the nearby rocking chair her great-grandfather had given her at her birth. They picked up other easy-to-replace items, but forgot a handmade quilt from Goldsworthy's grandmother and the box of toys her son had played with as a child and still cherished.

"All I could think about was the stuff I couldn't take," said Anderson, who did much of the evacuation himself as Goldsworthy prepared the family's two horses and pony to leave the one-acre property.

"I didn't believe the house was going to burn. I was completely shell-shocked . . . in that first hour, we had gotten most of the stuff that we now consider to be the really important things. We look at the stuff in the last hour after Nancy left, and it all seems inconsequential." As Goldsworthy prepared the horses, white ash rained down on the property and smoke was heading their way--the fire had broken from its historic burn pattern.

"I could see the fire coming east," she said. "The gray and brown smoke was punctuated by these big black puffs of smoke and I knew they were houses."

It was time to leave. Goldsworthy loaded the horses in the trailer and gathered up Calista. A neighbor led the pony to safety.

Anderson packed the last few items in the family truck and joined other neighbors in a safe vantage point from the approaching flames. By about 8:30 a.m., the fire had engulfed the Glen.

"I wasn't absolutely sure (the house) had burned until I went back that afternoon, then I could see it," he said.

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