By Kathleen Sturkey, Executive Director
October 31, 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
On Sunday, October 21, Charles (husband & Director of Operations) and I received a call that the electrical power was down at L.A.R.C. Ranch. Charles left immediately to see what the problem was about and was met by our son, Michael. As I drove separately to the Ranch, the Castaic Fire clouds were visible. I had also heard that a fire had begun in Agua Dulce. When I arrived, I had staff on stand-by preparedness for evacuation due to the Agua Dulce Fire, which means pulling all medications and books into an emergency suitcase and having the residents dressed appropriately with an extra pair of clothing.
At approximately 3:15 p.m., the firemen drove up and asked if we could evacuate in 20 minutes; until this time, no notice had been given. Unfortunately, due to the high winds, the Agua Dulce Fire had unexpectedly taken a rapid turn from Sierra Highway over the mountains and up Bouquet Canyon Road. I told the fire crew that I could not move the residents out in that short amount of time. We coordinated all of the residents into the Multipurpose Room with their meds and clothing. We took roll call, double checked the roll call and worked with the residents to keep them as calm as possible.
The fire crews stationed themselves around the interior of the Ranch and in front of the Multipurpose Room road. Suddenly, a river of fire rushed over the mountains. The duration of the fire was about an hour or two, but fire crews saved the Ranch and of course, our residents. When it was over, a fire truck remained for several hours putting out hot spots. The residents remained in the Multipurpose until approximately 6:30 p.m..; they received water, snacks, and medication during that time. Finally, they were released with flashlights to their homes. At that time we could not evacuate because the firestorm continued both north and south of Bouquet Canyon Road and Vasquez Canyon Road was closed due to bridge outages. Staff members, Chuck and I remained to watch for hot spots. The firemen told us that LARC’s year-round brush clearance policy helped to save the Ranch.
At that time, we lost the Stanton Pool structure and the small wooden ranch house original to the property. We lost multiple trees and foliage. There was an eerie glow of hot spots, burning trees and due to the wind, rushes of sparks throughout the front fields.
Charles and I left the ranch at about 2:00 a.m.. We knew that without electricity or phone service we would have to seek help for shelter, which is where we began.
Luckily, a few staff members still had cell phones that worked and we knew the residents were safe and there was emergency food available. Also, there was a continuous presence of Sheriff and fire crews patrolling the area. Our target was to evacuate them that day, which was Monday. Because there were now multiple fires in the Stevenson Ranch area, our designated evacuation site of the Hilton Garden Inn was out of the question. I decided to seek help with the Red Cross, which directed us to Golden Valley High School. Laura in the transportation department of the North L.A. County Regional Center arranged bus transportation for our residents on Monday morning.
Our residents spent three days at the Golden Valley High School American Red Cross shelter. I have high praise for the American Red Cross staff that cared for all of our needs, including comforting teddy bears. Also, special thanks to Wal Mart who provided new pillows, blankets, and much needed clothing. Overall it was a very safe, comforting environment.
On the evening of Wednesday, October 24, 2007, our residents returned to the Ranch. The City of Santa Clarita provided two stretch city buses, which were accompanied by an eight-car Sheriff escort. That day a crew of our staff sanitized the homes and cleared and restocked the refrigerators. A large crew of volunteers from Grace Baptist Church also arrived and cleaned the residential administration building, the Multipurpose Room and the Auditorium. The residents arrived to clean homes ready and waiting for their arrival.
We are in the process of coordinating many post-fire issues. We met with the insurance adjuster last Sunday and also discussed health concerns for our residents and staff that went through the firestorm with Dr. Jack Gindi and Dr. John Cocco. There are many agencies to be dealt with, such as the State and local health departments. There are multiple issues to be addressed, including the deep cleaning of the homes and other buildings, and demolition and rebuilding of the pool, just to name a few.
The reason the residents got through this heroing experience as well as they did, was due to the calm and wonderful efforts of my incredible staff, my husband, Charles and my son, Michael. A special thanks goes out to Denise Bennett and family who suddenly appeared on the scene to help. Everybody was awesome and I couldn’t have asked for a better crew during this entire ordeal! I am also thankful to my son-in-law, Akili Calhoun, my son, Michael Calderon, and Lucas Cantoni for the year-round brush clearance and safety barrier created by their efforts at my request. Brush clearance works! Of course, our gratitude goes to the fire department, whose vigilant efforts are always to be praised!
During this exceptional time, we have had the privilege to deal with many fine agencies that protected, assisted and met our needs!
My husband, always the photographer, has extensive footage of the firestorm, the damage, the shelter, and so on. This Thanksgiving we are truly thankful and wish you and your family a Happy and safe Thanksgiving!
Kathleen Sturkey Executive Director