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Tujunga neighbors monitor Station fire from their homes

September 1, 2009 |  1:08 pm


On Haines Canyon Avenue in Tujunga, which dead-ends into Angeles National Forest, Russ and Lisa Martin did not seem rattled today by the heavy smoke, raining ash and flames they could see from outside their home.

A call to evacuate their neighborhood came Monday night, but the Martins decided not to leave. Many of their neighbors did not heed the call to evacuate and were hosing down their lawns while wearing breathing masks or holding wet towels over their faces.

Russ Martin, a construction project manager, said he felt confident because he grew up in the area and had experienced the devastating fires that ravaged the area in 1975. As Lisa Martin, an administrative assistant, stood on the curb, reflecting on the foliage that was being destroyed, she said, "Let it burn. Get rid of the fuel. It sounds like a freight train through here when the Santa Ana winds pick up."

They were joined by Marian Westall, who has lived on Haines Canyon Avenue for 18 years. Westall, a custom artist for cruise ships, said that she and her husband have decided to stay put until it becomes absolutely necessary to leave. She was most concerned about the family's three German shepherds, one of which she was walking this morning.

"I can't take the dogs somewhere and leave them alone," she said. "They'll freak out."

She said she felt a level of excitement watching the flames leap across the mountainside.

"I'm kind of a thrill junkie," Westall said. "I've been loving the whole thing until last night when I saw the whole hill on fire. It was a reality check. I'm no longer excited."

Westall said it was interesting how the fire had brought neighbors together. Many gathered on the roadside, huddled in groups, their eyes looking up toward the flames leaping in the burning hills. Westall said she was still deciding whether to leave. She said sheriff's deputies had come through the area this morning, telling them to leave immediately or risk getting blocked by engines and law enforcement vehicles that were starting to arrive in the neighborhood.

Resident Sam Leu, 55, who works in the film and TV equipment industry, has lived on Haines Canyon since 1969. Leu walked up the street to chat with Westall. He said he also experienced the 1975 fire, when the paint on the back of his parents' two homes was blistered. He said he felt a bit more confident this time around.

"When it gets really close and the heat gets really intense, you say, 'OK, it's time to go,'" he said.

Leu and Westall both said they believed they would be able to evacuate the area if necessary or when the time came because the neighborhood has easy access in and out.

A few homes down on Haines Canyon, Joe Valentin, 54, a Pasadena city worker,  said he spent the night on the low, flat roof of his home, with a blanket, a pillow and water hose.

"It was actually quite comfortable," Valentin said. "It was like camping."

From the rooftop, he could see a wall of flames along the nearby ridgeline. He also had to keep an eye on his chickens, birds, turtles and dogs. Valentin said he was packed and ready to leave at a moment's notice.

"Right now, I'm fine," he said. "It just depends on whether the wind changes. I will stay as long as I can."

Many neighbors were walking up and down the streets, gathering in groups and watching huge flames jumping out of the nearby canyon as thick black smoke billowed in the air.

A group of men gathered a few blocks away on the curbside of Pinyon Avenue, monitoring as the flames on the hillside behind their homes. Jim McGlynn, 47, an administrator at UCLA, said most people on his street decided to stay behind and watch their homes. Many of their wives, children and pets had been evacuated Monday night.

"All the neighbors are pretty ready to go when and if we have to deal with it," he said. "Yes, it's kind of scary when it's getting closer and closer."

Suddenly, a couple of fire trucks came roaring down the street, sirens blaring. "That's our local 7-4,"  McGlynn said excitedly. He pointed up into the hills, in the direction of an old cemetery, which he typically hiked by and observed the flames were getting very close to the headstones.

A similar scene was being played out a few blocks away on Owens Place, where Sevan Ourfalian was sitting on a wall at a home where many neighbors had gathered. She stayed up this morning until 3 a.m.

"You just can't sleep thinking the worst," she said.

She said a fire truck had stayed in the area all night. At 6 a.m., the flames began to rise again. By 10 a.m., they had died down somewhat.

"We've been calm," said Ourfalian, a teacher. "I don't panic. We believe in them [the firefighters]."

Her husband, Haro Mherian, spent the night on his roof "just monitoring the situation."

"I could see how it started and how it went," he said.

Rob Chapman, 46, left his home Monday night and came back early this morning.

"There is nothing you can do at night," he said. "I don't want to risk getting killed."

Before he left, Chapman said he put new batteries in his camera and videotaped all of his possessions, including each closet and the contents of his garage.

"It's all insured," he said. The only belongings he took with him were important documents, cash and his treasured fishing rods.

-- Ann M. Simmons in Tujunga 

Top photo: Tujunga residents watch a firefighting helicopter.

Second photo: A Tujunga resident wipes her eyes as she clears brush from behind her home.

Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images


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