Tent city for fire victims is going up near border
Union Tribune (2007-11-01) Mark Sauer, Janine Zuniga
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More Info: Blackwater West
, Harris Ranch Fire
, Local Politics
By Mark Sauer and Janine Zúñiga
November 1, 2007
A tent city is set to spring from the ashes near Barrett Junction as wildfire-weary residents in the rugged community near the Mexico border have been told they will be without water and electricity for another 10 days.
The tent city, a donation from the controversial private-military company Blackwater Worldwide (formerly USA), is expected to be constructed tomorrow with equipment and materials coming from the firm's North Carolina headquarters. It will be erected across from the landmark Barrett Junction Cafe.
State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, whose office has helped coordinate relief efforts in the rural area near Dulzura, said it appeared that more than 150 residents were burned out of their homes by the Harris fire.
Blackwater's proposed military and police training center for nearby Potrero has attracted criticism over anticipated noise and traffic. Complaints intensified recently after fatal shootings of civilians by the firm's security guards in Iraq.
Hollingsworth said he has not heard any criticism of Blackwater providing the tents, and said it was “very generous of them to help out the community.”
Firefighters have declared full containment on four of the five major wildfires that raged through San Diego County: the Harris fire, the Witch Creek fire in North County, the Horno fire on Camp Pendleton and the Rice Canyon fire in Fallbrook.
The Poomacha fire on Palomar Mountain has been stubborn. Now at more than 50,000 acres, it has overcome attempts to set backfires that would have consumed fuel and closed the remaining eight miles of the containment line.
Crews are left to do a lot of cutting and digging with hand tools to finish the job; containment is not expected before Saturday.
Residents evacuated by the Poomacha fire were allowed yesterday to return to their homes on Palomar Mountain and the La Jolla Indian Reservation. A third of the 182 homes on the reservation were lost during the fire, which began at a house there.
Trailers to house some fire victims will not arrive for a few days, officials said.
Some left homeless by the fires have been staying at the Pechanga Resort in Temecula; others plan to stay with friends on the reservation whose homes survived the inferno.
Nearly 1,700 home were destroyed countywide.
For many of those homeowners, the sad search for keepsakes in the ashes continued yesterday.
In hard-hit Rancho Bernardo, Franklin Graham cupped his hand under a sifter to catch whatever might fall through from a charred ring box that a volunteer had gingerly opened.
“We want to try to help them preserve what they can,” Graham said, surveying the rubble that was Carole and Richard Morton's home for 22 years.
Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, was in San Diego on behalf of Samaritan's Purse, the Christian relief organization that has sent a convoy of trucks and equipment to the fire-ravaged region.
Samaritan's Purse, which Franklin Graham heads, is mobilizing dozens of volunteers in Rancho Bernardo, Fallbrook and Ramona to help residents sift ashes and clean up property. Graham also is president of his father's organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which has sent more than 100 chaplains to the area.
“This is what we do whenever there's a disaster,” said Graham, who led a similar relief effort in San Diego County four years ago after the Cedar and Paradise fires.
As he spoke, a small army of volunteers combed the detritus, some on their hands and knees. Among the things they salvaged: a ring Carole Morton received after 37 years of marriage.
Staff writers Kristina Davis, Sandi Dolbee, Onell Soto and Greg Gross contributed to this story.
Mark Sauer: (619) 293-2227; firstname.lastname@example.org