State health and safety inspectors on Monday said it's safe for residents of the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in Sylmar to return home after a five-month wait. Last November, the Sayre fire swept through the park and burned almost 500 homes in one of the worst fires in Los Angeles city history. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.
Frank Stoltze: For close to three decades, Bev Stahl has lived in the Oakridge Mobile Home Park – perched above the 210 Freeway in the foothills of the eastern San Fernando Valley. Hers was one of 100 homes that survived the Sayre Fire.
Bev Stahl: I drove in the park a couple hours ago – said we could come in – and the first impression was just so melancholy. I felt, ya know, not good, until I hit my street, and then I saw all these homes standing, and we know we've got a community.
Stoltze: Jim Thompson wasn't so lucky. He lost his mobile home in last November's fire. He plans to buy another, and to call Oakridge home as he's done for 23 years. But not in the same space.
Jim Thompson: We're going to go to a different site because I think it'd be a little bit less upsetting to be on a site that I didn't realize everything was totally destroyed on that site.
Stoltze: So you'll be here at Oakridge but you'll be in a different place.
Thompson: Yes, probably just a block down. I've already put in for a lot.
Stoltze: Nearby, city workers from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power completed their final work on restoring services to Oakridge. For months, the residents and park owners wrangled over cleanup costs.
Finally, the city took over those tasks and paid for them with state and federal emergency relief money. City Councilman Richard Alarcon responded to concerns that it still took too long to open the park back up to residents.
City Councilman Richard Alarcon: Number one, the potential toxicity of the debris removal process could be harmful to the people if they were to move back in, and number two the convergence of the construction crews and the removal companies and the families living here and driving in and out to work would slow down the process for everybody.
Stoltze: The new mobile homes that'll come into Oakridge must comply with state fire regulations that went into effect for all manufactured homes in January. Sal Poidomani is with the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
Sal Poidomani: Having to do with the type of roofing materials such as class "A" asphalt shingles, the type of siding that will be installed will be fire retardant, roof attic vents that will prevent the incandescent particles from entering the attic, dual-pane windows with at least one pane being safety-tempered, and fire doors as well.
Stoltze: Poidomani said such regulations might not have made much difference in the Sayre Fire, with its 70-mile an hour winds driving what veteran firefighters called one of the toughest fires they've ever fought. For homeowners like Oscar Flores, memories of fleeing the flames and dealing with the loss persist. Flores pointed to the concrete slab where his home once stood.
Oscar Flores: Jesus its hurts. God it hurts. That's why I didn't want to come here before. I didn't think I'd break down like this. Just hurts so much. We didn't have insurance.
Stotlze: No insurance?
Flores: No insurance.
Stoltze: Flores says his brother's offered to help him buy another mobile home – at a cost of around $150,000.
Stoltze: Hello. I'm a radio reporter.
Faye Scott: Hello.
Stoltze: Up the street, 60-year-old Faye Scott stood in the doorway of her still standing home, with half an inch of thick soot beneath her feet. She needs new carpet, new flooring, and new paint.
Scott: I've got mixed emotions. It's very sad to see the park the way it is – even with the debris removed, it's still very sad looking. But then on the other hand, I'm really glad my house is still here and I have a home to come home to.
Stoltze: City Councilman Alarcon says he expects 90 percent of the people who'd lived in Oakridge before the fire to return.