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Struggling for Calm While Fires Blaze

5,000 Evacuees Settle in Qualcomm Stadium

October 27, 2003|Jack Leonard | Times Staff Writer

As a sooty dusk fell over San Diego on Sunday, the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium, designated an evacuation center, resembled a makeshift neighborhood, complete with barking dogs, chirping car alarms and parked RVs.

About 5,000 evacuees, along with hundreds of pets, settled themselves into the stadium parking lot, some leaning against their cars with food in hand, others calling friends on their cell phones to find out if their homes were still there.

Volunteers wandered the lot with boxes of nutritional bars, water bottles, face masks and bowls for pets.

A sense of calm and good humor settled over the evacuation site despite the ash-filled air and blackish fog, ever-present reminders of the grim possibility that these people would have nothing to go home to.

Some arrived remarkably well prepared.

A couple with four children, ages 6 months to 3 years, saved their portable TV and VCR. "I just didn't want to see that thing get burned up," said Julie Carter, 29. They also brought their collection of 100 children's movies and began playing them for their youngsters outside their parked SUV.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 30, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Clairemont -- An article in Monday's Section A about evacuations forced by wildfires misspelled the name of the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego as Claremont. The city of Claremont is in eastern Los Angeles County.

From their Marine housing near Tierra Santa, they could see the flames from the top of their house. "It was getting pretty close. We knew how fast it was moving. We thought better safe than sorry, and go and camp out at Qualcomm," said Kirby Carter, a Marine Corps helicopter mechanic who returned from Iraq in July. "They don't even know what's going on," he said of his children. "They think it's just some camp-out at the stadium."

Others showed up with very little -- not even cell phones. Michelle Fletcher, 33, who lives in the Claremont neighborhood of San Diego, waited in a short line to use a pay phone to check on her two sons, Christopher, 2, and Nicholas, 9, who are staying with different foster families. She got through to the 9-year-old but couldn't get the pay phone to work when she tried to call for her second child. She left the line, frustrated, then decided to go back to try again.

Qualcomm Stadium security guard John Foulks saw her. "Here, use this," Foulks said, handing her his cell phone.

"Are you sure?" Fletcher asked.

"I've got unlimited weekend minutes," Foulks assured her. She reached the family of her 2-year-old.

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