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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FIRESTORMS | CLAREMONT

Struggling for Calm While Fires Blaze

Fate of Their Homes Is Revealed on a List

October 27, 2003|Rich Connell | Times Staff Writer

All day long, residents of the Claraboya development in Claremont came to see the list.

It was written in black pen on a 3-by-5 sheet of notepaper duct-taped to the crosswalk sign that marks the corner of Mountain Avenue and Thompson Creek Trail.

It had 17 addresses on it -- the street numbers of homes destroyed or damaged in the neighborhood.

Bruce Langford looked at the sign, then broke down in tears. He locked eyes with his girlfriend, Jessica Valentine, then hugged her. Their condo in the development's High Point section appeared safe, although several close by were harmed.

"We just moved in," said Langford, 51, a music teacher at Citrus College in Glendora, as they held each other. "It took us a year to find this place."

Another couple wasn't as lucky. They came by to confirm bad news delivered by a neighbor a few hours earlier. Sure enough, they found their address.

"Oh, gosh, it's breaking my heart," said the woman, refusing to give her name.

Another woman came up with her husband. They both dragged fingers down the sign, looking at the numbers. She placed her hand over her heart.

"It's not on the list," she said, then walked away.

The Claraboya development was evacuated at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday as fire raced through the area. Police banged on doors and gave residents 10 minutes to get out.

"What do you take? What do you leave?" Langford asked, still teary-eyed.

He and Valentine realized they had left behind photo albums, scrapbooks.

The scrap of paper fire officials taped to the crosswalk represented the only official information residents had on the fate of their homes for much of the day.

As the hours passed, they became increasingly desperate for news.

In the afternoon, Bonnie Fulner, another High Point resident, roiled the group around the list with word that someone in the fire department had told her there were homes not on the list, including the unit next door to hers, that were damaged.

"It's horrible not knowing," she said.

Donald Carpenter couldn't stand the suspense. His home wasn't on the list, but he hiked up a trail along the fire's edge to check on his 2 1/2-acre property himself.

The house was intact, but his prized deck was gone, as was his koi pond.

Late in the afternoon, a second list was taped to the signpost, below the first. This one was typed. But it had the same 17 addresses.

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