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Saves celebrated, losses mourned

December 05, 2006|GREGORY W. GRIGGS | Times Staff Writer

At first glance, you can't tell that the home at the end of a neat cul-de-sac in downtown Moorpark suffered substantial fire damage.

Once inside, however, you can't miss the large rectangular hole providing a breeze and a view of the skies above. There are similar holes over the bedroom-turned-office on the second floor and above the bath in the master bedroom.

Still, Becky Stein and her husband of 10 years, Rob Frankle, were grateful to the unknown firefighters who saved their home from greater damage. On Sunday morning, flames advanced toward their four-bedroom house on Sir George Court and the couple loaded up their 3-year-old son, Elijah, dogs Loki and Calisto, and headed to Woodland Hills to ride out the danger with relatives.

Surveying the mess with an insurance adjuster Monday afternoon, they still marveled at how little of the interior was disrupted when crews stopped embers from engulfing their home's wood shake roof.

"The firefighters -- they did a great job. They got here quick," said Frankle, a computer programmer. "It could have been a whole lot worse, so I think we came out really lucky."

John Nozaki was not as fortunate. The family business, Nozaki Nursery Inc., operates 54 acres at the edge of Happy Camp Canyon Recreational Park north of Moorpark, and he figures the loss of a 11,250-square-foot metal shed full of equipment will set the business back at least $500,000.

Along with the six tractors, forklifts, motorized shovels, two delivery trucks and several flat-bed trailers for hauling palm trees and other ornamental plants, Nozaki, 39, said losing his personal vehicles was a particular blow. The Moorpark resident stored his mint-condition 1979 Camaro, a vintage truck, three motorcycles and an off-road vehicle inside the metal storage shed, which was scorched and melted by the heat of the fire.

Next to the warped walls that remained of the shed, employee Jessie Ochoa sifted through the ash that had been his mobile home, hoping to find some personal effects and mementos. He also couldn't locate his black cat, Panther.

Ochoa, 48, said both he and Nozaki were on site during the 108,000-acre Simi fire in October 2003 and were able to beat back the firestorms. This time, both men were visiting the South Bay on Sunday and were too far away to make a difference.

"That time we were lucky. This time, I lost everything," said Ochoa, who will temporarily stay with a brother in town. "The good thing is that we are healthy and alive; that's the main thing."

Dorann LaPerch and her mother both lost their homes, located on a hill overlooking Walnut Canyon Road.

But LaPerch was smiling Monday, cheered by the dozens of friends who visited the family's Bonn-Fyre Farms horse facility and the outpouring of public concern.

LaPerch said she was most touched by a woman who had heard of their plight. The woman brought along her two young children, who gave LaPerch a gift of $100 from their savings to help replace a pet pigeon lost in the fire.

A group of family friends set up an account at the Union Bank branch on Los Angeles Avenue in Moorpark for LaPerch and her 81-year-old mother, Mildred.

Despite not having enough insurance to replace all their losses, the farm owner said she hoped to rebuild on the property her parents carved out nearly three decades ago.

"This is our home," she said. "This was my dad's dream, this property. This was a dream that became a reality."

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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