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Returning home, finding only a chimney standing

November 17, 2008 |  5:05 pm

Mike Chene and his wife Julienne thought they had done everything they could to protect their Yorba Linda home. Last year they had cut a fire break on the nearby hills and had planted ice plants. Their home even had a pool.

But when they returned today, 47 hours after they had evacuated, they found only the chimney standing.

“I just kept thinking we were coming back. I didn’t think this would happen,” Julienne said.

On the day of the fire, Julienne said, she woke up and saw plumes of smoke but didn’t worry. After 9 a.m., she went to the gym, had breakfast, went shopping, then went home. Julienne said she was making lunch when she realized the fire was moving fast.

The family was not told to evacuate but did anyway. Julienne said she threw shirts, a pair of tennis shoes, wedding photos, a portrait of Chene, who served in the Marine Corps for 27 years, and photos of their children. Not included were bills and tax documents.

"We had such a short time to get out. Your mind goes blank," Julienne said, noting that the house was insured. Outside, Mike said he was trying to hose down the home until the last minute. "The fire just moved too fast.

It was a mile and half away, then 30 minutes later it was on us," said Chene. As they pulled out of the home’s driveway, embers flew over their car and backyard. Rummaging around the rubble, the family recovered a domino game, one or two books that didn’t burn, and a marine statute. On Sunday, the family attended church, where members told the family that they could stay in their homes. "It’s very humbling," said Chene.

The family will stay at the home of Mike’s brother in Irvine. Standing around, the family joked and laugh, but occasionally Julienne would wipe tears from her eyes.

"It comes in waves," she said. The family asked neighbors to keep an eye out for looters, while they are away. They are staying at home of Mike’s brother in Irvine. Julienne said there might be be things buried five layers underneath.

"I may find a ring," she said.

--Paloma Esquivel