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Lone house on the street saved

Running Springs:

Genoviva Bacio is feeling fragile, tearing up as she tries to explain the rain of fire, the Virgin Mary and exactly what happened as her world began to burn.

"I know it was a miracle," she said, wiping her eyes.

As pillars of fire licked the sky around her Running Springs home Monday, Bacio and her husband Carlos, 46, knew they were in trouble. Four-inch pieces of flaming wood pelted their rooftop. Even worse, theirs was the first house on the street and sitting directly in the San Bernardino National Forest. It would be the first to go.

"We packed everything, clothes, insurance policies, pictures," her husband recalled. "Our street was on fire and it was approaching our house."

But they hadn't packed everything.

Genoviva, 47, ran back inside and saw the large portrait of the Virgin Mary staring at her from the living room wall.

"I went in to grab it but something in her eyes said, `No, don't take me,' '' she recalled, sitting at the evacuation center in San Bernardino. "I felt something so strong speaking to me. I left her and asked her to please watch over our house."

The couple and their three children made their way down the mountain along with many other members of St. Anne's in the Mountains parish. Father Tim Keppel, the church pastor, was also evacuated.
St. Anne's sits in the community of Fredalba.

News soon filtered in that the Bacios' street was burned, nothing survived. Then came word that Fredalba had been almost entirely destroyed.

Father Keppel tried to rally his parishioners. They held services twice a day at the evacuation center, singing and holding hands by the chain-link fence. For many of the immigrant Latino parishioners the church is the closest thing to an extended family they have here. Occasionally.,Keppel had to alter the daily gospel lesson, changing "I've come to set a fire upon the earth" to "The Beatitudes."

Yet uncertainty hung in the air.

Then on Wednesday a Spanish-language television crew showed the family a video. At first their hearts sunk; the street was devastated except for one house on the corner -- their house.

The fire has stopped at the front corner, advancing no further.

The Bacios knew instantly what happened.

"Even when the rumors said our house was destroyed I felt sure the Blessed Virgin saved it and she did, she did watch over it," said Genoviva. "We have struggled through life starting all over again when we came here from Mexico, and now God has taken care of us."

The news was good for St. Anne's as well. The church was one of the few buildings to survive in Fredalba.

Keppel doesn't see it as dumb luck.

"The fire came right up to the door of the church," he said knowingly. "That's the power of prayer, that's the power of God."

-- David Kelly

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