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Residents Find Homes Spared Alongside Leveled Homes With PM-Fires, Bjt

June 28, 1990

SANTA BARBARA (AP) _ Jennifer and Rick Cook drove up the long, narrow driveway to see what was left of Jennifer’s parents’ home.

″Oh God 3/8 Oh God 3/8″ she wailed as their car snaked back into the hills, passing through thick smoke, ash and embers.

But there was the house she grew up in - untouched by the firestorm that had swept through several hours earlier.

″It’s OK. It’s OK,″ she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. A few minutes later she was reunited with her parents, Susan and George Grgich, who credited their home’s survival to a new asphalt roof.

The Grgiches were among the fortunate - those who escaped the 3,500-acre inferno Wednesday night in the suburban foothills of this quiet, wealthy coastal city.

At least 280 families lost their homes in the blaze, which leveled entire neighborhoods. Firefighters often could do little more than soak the remains of what were once $750,000 homes. In some instances, they were able to save homes adjacent to the worst damage.

Utility workers moved from house to house in the early morning darkness, shutting off gas valves. Otherwise, neighborhoods were deserted, with the only sound the eerie whistle of a flaming gas main or the tumble of pots and pans in what was once the cupboard of a designer kitchen.

One vantage point revealed a residential landscape dotted by flames for miles in every direction. Under an orange sky filled with soot, one resident narrated his escape.

″I started reading the paper after I came home from work and then my 12- year-old said, ’Daddy, the back yard is on fire,‴ said Bryan Gaggs, whose home was untouched while those of two of his nearest neighbors were gutted.

″When I finally left the house, I thought my house was already going. But it turned out to be unscathed,″ Gaggs said.

About a half-mile away, across a small canyon, seven homes were destroyed.

Jerry Neeley, wearing a dentist’s mask to breathe through the smoke, stayed behind to try to save his sprawling residence.

″It was like an inferno,″ he said. ″I saw smoke a couple miles away and had just put hamburgers on. I hurried dinner so we could all go upstairs and watch the fire. And then it was on us. It must have traveled several miles in less than 30 minutes.″

Neeley threw flammable items, including lawn furniture, into his pool.

At a Red Cross rescue center in the gymnasium at the University of California, Santa Barbara, evacuees gathered around a radio as a roving reporter rattled off the street addresses of homes that had been burned to the ground.

One woman, who identified herself only as Sue, heard her street address called. ″I didn’t get one picture,″ she said, sobbing gently. ″I didn’t get a photograph. Not one thing. Not one memory.″

Her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease, was rescued.

″We’ve got each other,″ Sue said. ″We’ll start (again) somehow.″

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