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Residents flee Station fire in Sunland-Tujunga

August 31, 2009 |  3:13 pm


As billows of white and black smoke danced ominously close, Chuck Horn ushered his family and his two prized collectors' automobiles out of his home in the Sunland-Tujunga area.

"We took pictures, tax returns, insurance forms, the dog, the chicken, and that's it," said Horn, 61, a retired L.A. County public works employee, as he prepared to drive away in his baby blue 1931 Plymouth three-window coup. Horn was next planning on moving his black 1911 Buick Model 33 away from the blaze.

Nearby, his son, Eric, was dousing the bushes in the frontyard with a hose. Horn, his wife, and his son were planning on staying with relatives in the Sunland area down near the foot of the hill.

Numerous police cars were going up and down the wide but winding Terecita Road, announcing a mandatory evacuation and urging the last remaining families to leave immediately. Most families appeared to have left the middle-class neighborhood with ranch-style homes. At one hurriedly evacuated home, the garage door sat open, showing mops, rakes and a washer and dryer.

Horn's home was about 200 yards from the clouds of smoke. No flames were visible, and it was difficult to know just how close the fire was. He recalled how a year after he first bought his home in 1974, flames from the Mill Creek fire reached the ridge just above his house. Neighbors said at the time of that fire, the entire neighborhood was shrouded in smoke, making it so dark that streetlights had to be turned on at 2 in the afternoon.

Across the street, Chuck Horn's brother Michael swept pine needles off his roof as he too prepared to evacuate.

"I was here in 1975," Michael Horn said, "walking like a zombie up here on the roof. I'm doing it again."

Michael Horn, 57, said he was taking with him pictures, important papers and clothes -- "anything that can't be replaced." He said he was going to stay with his daughter in the Sunland area.

Up the street from the Horns, Norm Strong, 70, was loading suitcases into his pickup truck.

During the Mill Creek fire, flames reached down to the driveway of a neighbor's house two doors up from his home, Strong said. He spent the duration of that fire atop his roof, as strong winds sent embers about 4 inches wide flying through the air.

That was the last time that area burned," said Strong, a retired L.A. Department of Water and Power worker. He pointed up the ridge, where clouds of smoke crept closer.

Strong had packed papers and clothes into the suitcases. His wife had gone ahead with their dogs and photographs.

"Oh, I forgot my front tooth," said Strong, who was missing a front tooth denture, heading back into his home. "I've got to go back into the house and get it."

At the home closest to the ridge, three neighbors tried to persuade a stubborn resident to evacuate. Brian Hix, his wife, and another neighbor were removing tarp from the roof of their 78-year-old neighbor, Ralph, who they said was inside his house.

The frontyard of the two-story wooden structure was cluttered with tiles, ladders, recycled cans, tubing, big piles of chain link fence and a mobile home. About 20 yards of the area surrounding the home had been cleared of brush and shrubbery. Hix's wife, who declined to give her name, said she was skeptical they would be able to persuade Ralph to leave.

"You don't tell Ralph anything," she said.

-- Sam Quinones in Sunland-Tujunga

Photo: David Duplessis carries furniture from his house on Day St. into a rented U-Haul as he evacuates in Tujunga Monday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times