3rd of July became day of thanksgiving

This article was originally published July 13, 1989, as a “Reporter’s notebook” in the Hacienda Heights Highlander. I was editorial assistant in the news department at the time.

Helicopters circled above my head. I saw more fire engines, paramedic units and sheriff’s cars than I can ever remember seeing at one time, and I felt very lucky to be where I was.

It may have been July 3, the day before the Fourth of July, but maybe it should have been Thanksgiving Day because the Puente Hills fire did not reach my house.

For me, it was the day my parents’ house came too close to burning down. The neighbors below us came even closer to completely losing theirs.

“Home” came to mind when I first heard about the fire. I panicked briefly, then decided that if it was close to home, I’d hear one way or the other and it was more constructive to keep working than to rush home when the roof would get watered anyway.

Of course, since I work in a newspaper office, working meant taking phone calls about the fire, most of them from staff members in the field wanting to know if we had someone on the scene.

One of the calls reported that the fire was at Turnbull Canyon, far from “home.” Another reported that it was visible from Temple City.

I also received update calls from home every once in awhile and my sister called to find out what I knew.

Finally, I got the word to hitch a ride home — the house was OK.

On the way home, I was torn between wishing that I had a camera to take pictures and wanting to hurry there.

Hurrying there was not as easy as I expected it to be.

At Palm and Seventh Avenue, the street was barricaded with police cars, fire engines, and paramedic units.

The policeman directed us to the left, so I had to try to remember where the next through street was.

Palm and Ridley was the next through street, and it too was barricaded.

At this barricade, we stopped.

The sheriff’s van happened to be loading for my neck of the woods, what was left of them after the fire burned through the brush around our house.

I hopped aboard in the back of the van, glad to be on the way home, shouted “Thanks” to my co-worker and hoped I didn’t look worried, because one of the other passengers was a scared little girl.

Once she and her parents got out, I was within walking distance of my destination, so I asked the driver if it was OK to walk in the area, thanked him for the ride when he said it was, and headed off in the cloud of smoke.

A neighbor I hadn’t seen for years waved as she drove in the opposite direction.

Another asked me if I was on my way home from work. Someone I never saw before said he was looking for one of his friends.

I saw people sitting in lawn chairs in the street, looking more like they had just watched a fireworks show than flames that could have destroyed their or the neighbors’ homes.

The house below us did catch on fire and the big hole in the roof made me think of pictures I’ve seen of houses that have been bombed.

As I looked at the house, I saw someone looking through photos. Ashes had fallen on the pool cover.

Based on the story I heard, neighbors managed to minimize the damage through watering down the shake roof.

The fire apparently started when an ash from the fire landed on the solar panels on the roof, before the firemen backfired the blaze up the hill, away from us and others who were not so lucky.