SoCal VARs Begin To Come Back After Fire3:55 PM EST Fri. Oct. 26, 2007
The big wildfires which this week swept through Southern California have been pretty much doused or contained, letting solution providers and other IT people in hard-hit San Diego sneak back into their homes commando-style and get back in business.
And many of those homes were saved by, of all things, ice plants.
About 19 of those fires rage from northern Los Angeles County and Malibu Beach through Orange County and down to San Diego County. While most were caused by a long-term dry spell and, in some cases, downed power lines or destroyed power transformers, at least three are suspected of being purposely set
They are reminiscent of the fires which almost exactly four years ago scoured Southern California . They caused the evacuation of nearly one million people and the loss of nearly 2,000 homes.
Bruce Geier, founder, president, and CEO of Technology Integration Group, a San Diego-based solution provider, said his company's office was untouched by the fire, but his home was nearly lost.
Overall, the damage caused by the fires in San Diego was focused mainly on residential areas, Geier said. "Businesses did not really feel the 'heat.'"
Geier was forced to leave his home on Monday, but by Tuesday afternoon curiosity overcame his fear of the smoke and the National Guard as he and his 16-year-old son snuck back into his smoking neighborhood to see how his house was doing. "We just wanted to see if our house was OK," he said.
To do so, it was necessary to get around law enforcement and National Guard roadblocks set up on the main roads to prevent looting and to prevent homeowners from entering potential dangerous neighborhoods. "But around here, there are a lot of streets going every whichy-way," Geier said.
They drove to a point close to home from where they could walk in across a smoldering landscape with no birds, leaves, or other foliage, Geier said. "It was like walking on the moon," he said. "We should have had masks, but we didn't."
They walked to a point where they could see through binoculars that their house as well as the rear deck was still standing when they were spotted by a helicopter that was circling the area looking for hotspots and which may have mistaken them for looters.
"They probably radioed in that we were here," Geier said. "So we took off running. My son is as fast as a rabbit. He left me way behind. I must've lost three pounds because of all the sweat. We got in the car and turned the air conditioning on to cool down, and my son said, let's do it again."
They didn't. Instead, they left the area, passing through two National Guard roadblocks who warned them to not enter the area again.
Next: Heading Back Home
On Friday morning, Geier and his family got word they could head back. Of the five houses on the private street on which his house sits, the two on the other side had burned while the three on his side were standing. However, they were not unscathed. The fire had burned the landscape in front and had melted many of the underground plastic pipes in the sprinkler system.
The yard burned right up until the area Geier had planted with ice plants, which stopped the fire. Ice plants are succulent plants which store a lot of water, and are found throughout Southern California, where they are considered in some areas an invasive species.
However, those ice plants saved more homes that Geier's.
John Matze, vice president of business development at Hifn, a Los Gatos, Calif.-based storage vendor which purchased his previous company Siafu Software, said his home in Poway, Calif. in San Diego County was saved by ice plants.
Matze's home had a city-mandated buffer space of ice plants in the back yard, and had a clear landscape in front. Many of his neighbors' homes that were not burned also had ice plants. "I used to bitch about the water bill, but I don't now," he said.
Matze and his family was forced to evacuate Monday morning at 4:00 am. By 10:00 am Monday, he drove back to his neighborhood to see if he had a home. "I got to the top of the winding road by the house, and saw fires on the right and left, and a fire coming up the road," he said.
He left, but by 1:00 he was back again with his son. They used his garden hose to put out a few small fires in the yard, then helped neighbors put out fires in the neighborhood.
On Tuesday, Matze was in San Jose on a business trip, but his wife wanted to go home. She was stopped by authorities, but was determined to go back, and so she grabbed some food she bought and drove home by some side streets and spent that night at home. "The fires were out, and it was safe," he said. "Plus, she could help the neighbors."
The fires burned to with two blocks of Matze's house, and destroyed the roughs in the golf course that backs up against his rear fence.
The Hifn office in Poway was not hurt by the fires. The only close call among local employees was the director of engineering, whose house just missed being consumed by fires which came right up to the windows of his house. "But he had ice plants," he said.
Nth Generation, a solution provider with an office in the Rancho Bernardo area, which was especially hard hit, is back in full operation after being closed a couple days. The fires had burned to a point just across the road from the office before they were finally put out. No one was hurt from Nth Generation from the fires.
Storage vendor Iomega's office and the homes of several personnel were evacuated on Monday because of the fire, but the office was back up and running normally by Wednesday, said CEO Jonathan Huberman.
Huberman woke up Monday morning to see a giant wall of black smoke coming his way. He said the fire burned to within two miles of his home. He and his family moved in with friends in La Jolla, a suburb of San Diego on the ocean. "It was an interesting time, especially for the kids," he said.
The office was in a mandatory evacuation zone, but the fire was never any closer than five miles, so there was no real danger, Huberman said. It was closed Monday and Tuesday, and reopened on Wednesday. "Less than 20 percent of Iomega's people work at the headquarters," he said. "Sales and shipping weren't affected. We have almost no sales guys in San Diego, and shipping isn't done there at all.
Craig Zarley contributed to this report