October and November are among the most beautiful months in southern California. Temperatures remain warm, but as the saying goes, “It’s a dry heat.” The skies are crystal clear and you can see practically forever. However, after a long, hot summer with very little rain throughout the year, the entire natural landscape is brown.
While the weather is gorgeous, southern California residents bristle when the first signs of the Santa Ana winds appear: flags flapping at sunrise, winds blowing from the east rather than the west, tumbleweeds racing down suburban streets, and static electricity. The communities nestled in valleys, canyons, and foothills are vulnerable to raging wildfires that start dozens of miles away and bear down in a matter of hours thanks to the Devil Winds that carry embers at freeway speeds.
Years of drought coupled with seasonal Santa Ana winds blowing from the desert to the coast are responsible for the loss of thousands of homes throughout the region over the last few years. Major wildfires in 2005, 2007, and 2008 have devastated entire counties. Residents have learned that fires located far off in the distance can arrive at their doorsteps in a matter of hours.
Imagine going to bed after watching news reports covering a fire affecting a distant mountain community only to have firemen knocking on your doors at 3:00 AM ordering you to evacuate as the fire bears down on your neighborhood. This scenario played itself out hundreds of times during the San Diego wildfires in 2007. Monster fires can erupt overnight as well, as residents of Sylmar, California recently discovered. A single mobile home park in the area lost over 500 homes.
While the 2008 Montecito fire grabbed most of the national headlines due to the dramatic footage of multimillion dollar mansions burning to the ground and the fact that Montecito is home to many of the country’s most beloved celebrities, other wildfires sprang up in the suburbs of LA, Orange, and Riverside counties. These fires continue to rage as of this writing.
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While home prices have fallen due to the housing crisis, insurance losses from these fires will measure in the billions. Rebuilding mansions and, even tract homes, is not cheap. Residents who have lost their homes have a long, sorrowful process ahead of them. First, while evacuated, many people are living with the fear of what they’ll come home to. Some will find their homes have survived, others won’t be so lucky. In between are those homeowners who return to find that their home has survived, but is surrounded by ashes – all the neighboring homes are gone.
For those whose homes have burned, the process ahead is painful. They must deal with grief, finding temporary lodging, replacing basic necessities, filling out insurance claims and FEMA paperwork, finding a contractor, and rebuilding.
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