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After the fire, Tujunga happy to see blue skies

Normal activities -- kids at play, golf games, a wedding -- return to the mountain community.

September 06, 2009|Catherine Saillant and Hector Becerra

As skies cleared and the Station fire's threat to Tujunga ended, Cathy Ouellet cautiously ventured back outside Saturday, taking her two young sons to a local park.

"Maybe the air isn't great," Ouellet said as she wrangled her fussy 2-year-old. "But the kids wake up early, and we couldn't go out at all last week."

Residents went through their daily rhythms, happy that a sense of normalcy was returning to the area that took the brunt of property losses in the 154,000-acre blaze.

Southern California's skies looked relatively clear and baby-blue.

The UCLA Bruins began their college football season at a packed Rose Bowl without the sprinkling ash and eye-stinging smoke that had enveloped the area earlier in the week. At the La Canada Flintridge Country Club, Saturday meant business as usual.

The club had been closed several days during the fire when firefighters girded for battle in its parking lot. But the golfers were back Saturday, putting on rolling greens, and the swimming pool was reopened.

"We had a wedding today, we have people playing golf. It's back to normal," said Mikalina Celani, 22, a receptionist. "I was in Burbank a couple of days ago, and there was this thick layer of smoke in the air. It just made your eyes dry out, and it was hard to breathe. Things are a lot better today."

Fire officials say that 76 homes were destroyed by the Station fire, many of them in Big Tujunga Canyon.

"It was a solid week of fear up here," said Frank Emanuele, a contractor whose one-acre property was briefly threatened. "One minute they had a handle on it, and the next it was out of control again."

Today Emanuele returned to his favorite sidewalk cafe in Tujunga's old downtown area, enjoying a smoke and the daily paper.

"Last night I could see the change," he said. "The stars were out and the air was crisp."

For at least four days last week, the Station fire licked around the mountain community, forming a chain of flame in the surrounding wilderness that firefighters battled to keep out of populated areas.

The smoke was so bad by Monday that the sky had taken on a mutant orange glow, said Kathleen Ford, a theater arts teacher.

Raining ash covered every surface and made outdoor activities unsafe for days.

She went to a meeting hall on Saturday expecting a community forum to discuss the fire's aftermath. The session was postponed and Ford chatted for a few minutes with other residents who said they questioned whether fire commanders put enough resources on the fire as it approached Tujunga.

"We're kind of like the orphan children of the city," said Joan Klein, a program analyst with the IRS.

The women agreed that the loss of hundreds of miles of wilderness habitat was a tremendous loss for Tujunga.

The longest line in town was at the $4.99 car wash on Foothill Boulevard.

"The fire's someone else's problem now, so people feel they can finally clean their car," said Ouellet.

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catherine .saillant@latimes.com

hector.becerra@latimes.com

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