Wednesday, October 24, 2007
A bizarre mix of destruction and survival
For hours, I stood in the remains of what was once, clearly, a beautiful neighborhood.

Rancho Bernardo, one of the hardest hit sections of San Diego, was a bizarre mix of destruction and survival. Dozens and dozens of homes burned to the ground. Smoke smouldered over the charred remains of personal posessions. A tool box. An ironing board. All completely blackened from searing flames just a day before.

Oddly, some of the homes in Rancho Bernardo stood relatively unscathed. This was partly due to firefighters, they saved the homes they could. But it was also because of the strange way fire hopscotches. So in the end, you have these weird pairings of houses that lived, and others that died, side by side.

As we cranked out the live shots, it was a bit eerie that we saw none of the homeowners. Rancho Bernardo was strictly controlled, and blocked off to residents, a mandatory evacuation still in effect. The only folks we saw were fire crews, police, gas company people, and the media. We eventually realized, that many of the homeowners were probably not sure whether their house had made it through the fire, or not.

So I had a lot of time to just stare at burnt things. Later in the evening, a fire team came to our live shot location, and doused out smoky hotspots with a water tank. It all made me think. You don't really have to live in southern California to be vulnerable to this. Fire can get anyone.

And it occured to me, how ill-prepared I am for that kind of a loss, and that most of these folks are probably in the same boat.

--By Keith Oppenheim, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 12:37 PM ET
  6 Comments
Dear Keith,
You are certainly right at how life can change without warning at any moment. This is why it is so important for everyone, not just those affected, to come together as we have already begun to see. Possessions can be replaced, precious lives cannot. Nothing is more important than the people you love, your friends and family. It is in times like this when you truly realize just how strong you really are, and what means the most in life.

I wanted to commend you and the entire CNN/AC360 Crew for being so dedicated and compassionate. Please tell everyone your neighbours in Canada send our prayers and condolences, and we are thinking of everyone every step of the way. God Bless You All, Take Care And Stay Safe.

Jennifer-Allison
Oshawa, Ontario Canada
Posted By Anonymous : 6:50 PM ET
Dear Keith,

Hello and kind greetings from the seaside of Canada. It must have been so sad be right there among the devastation. That must have been so sad for you to see. We have seen it too and there truly is an eerie feeling of walking in the midst of a home only just burned down. It’s so quiet and everything is still smoldering or dripping with water. To actually see it and smell it, you just never forget it. I never did, it was so sad. (thankfully the people had been rescued) The good thing is that soon they rebuilt their dream home and it is very lovely. So there is hope after a fire.

Our hearts go out to the people in California now.

I had to write and express to you that we feel exactly the same way you do. After watching this tragedy unfold and to see how quickly some had to evacuate we realize it could happen to anyone. It reminded us that last month we read an article about how to be prepared in case of a natural disaster.

The New York City Office of Emergency Management recommends that everyone have a GO BAG – a durable, accessible, easy-to-transport bag containing important essentials,

This is the LINK for what to pack:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/ready/prepared_gobag.shtml

We realized we would not be prepared if we ever had to flee. Considering this California emergency and last minute 911 calls and orders to immediately evacuate, our family could TRULY understand the benefit of having a GO BAG to grab.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the people in California and for all of you covering this unfolding tragedy. Thank you so much Keith, please keep up the good work. Last night’s AC 360 special coverage was amazing and so touching. It must have given the dear people there great comfort so they wouldn't have to sit wondering and worrying about what was happening. Thank you. Please take care & stay safe.

In appreciation, Gina & family in Canada
Posted By Anonymous : 6:52 PM ET
This is going to be more costly than reported as the week wears on; I say this because the land itself is some of the most expensive in the country.

I hope cnn is hot on the trail (no pun intended) of the arsonist or arsonists who may be responsible for some of these fires. I (along with millions of Americans) would like to see justice done here.
Posted By Cary - Lowell, IN : 7:50 PM ET
I am one of the lucky residents of Rancho Bernardo. I was allowed back into my home today while many have no home in which to return. I have spent the last 3 days watching local & national coverage of this disaster. Many people/government officials are comparing our situation to that of the Katrina victims. I know it might be easy for me to say because my home was saved, but our community was able to help us in our time of need. As the residents of RB fled around 4:00 a.m. monday morining most had a clear picture of where they were turning to for help. Some to shelters, others to family & friends. I was very concerned about my home when I left but knew that I only had to drive a few miles to safety. The victims of Katrina could not help themselves & couldn't go to another community to seek refuge. Although the loss in the San Diego area & Rancho Bernardo in particular is devastating, it cannot be compared to Katrina. When Anderson Cooper is reporting from a burned out home in RB, there aren't dead bodies on the lawn or people stranded without food, water, or shelter. Thank you for covering our story in RB. We are a strong community & those of us who were more furtunate than our neighbors will do everything we can to make their transition into rebuilding as smooth as possible.
Posted By Anonymous : 9:06 PM ET
Keith

I doubt any of us are ready for this type of loss. To lose everything must be an awful thing to experience. I just hope that the insurance companies will be helpful to these people instead of recalcitrant like they were on losses from Katrina. To start over is bad enough, to have to fight the insurance company that you've paid for years just adds one more frustration to the process that they don't need.

Thanks for the great reporting you and the rest of CNN are doing on this tragedy.

Annie Kate
Birmingham AL
Posted By Annie Kate : 9:47 PM ET
Who could ever be ready for loss?! But Californians are always bombarded with information and opportunities to become prepared for earthquakes, fires, acts of terrorism, etc. We've equipt our home and garage with emergency exit equip, emergency food and water, a generator, a quick release safe with important documents, emergency pet kit, etc. Our vehicles also have small emergency kits in them. Almost all of the kits or information on how to prepare and store kits have come from our workplace or the City of Los Angeles. I've made sure that my loved ones also have appropriate and adequate emergency supplies and we all have an emergency meeting site and a backup emergency meeting site. When we break out the Christmas stuff, we also check the expiration dates on all our supplies as well as smoke and co2 alarms. You cannot be prepared for the emotional hit of a disaster but you can be prepared to at least begin to deal with the physical and logistical aspects of dealing with a disaster, large or small scale. There are lots of resources out there to provide people with information regarding what kinds of disasters their area is prone to and what they can do to prepare for a disaster.
Posted By Anonymous : 12:49 PM ET
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