Sylmar woman reflects on loss of home

Police today escorted occupants of the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in Sylmar back to their homes or to what was left of them. Almost 500 of the 600 homes in the park burned during the weekend. KPCC's Frank Stoltze brings us the story of one woman there who lost everything.

Frank Stoltze: Like everyone else at the Oakridge Mobile Home Park, Marie Larsen got a rude awakening shortly after midnight Friday.

Marie Larsen: At 1:30 in the morning the police were knocking on my door, and when I opened the door, my neighbor's house was engulfed in flames. And he said to me, "you got to get out now!"

Stoltze: The winds were howling at 70-miles-an-hour as fire overtook the park in the foothills of the northern San Fernando Valley. Police struggled to help Larsen's roommate Barbara Getzinger, whom she described as large.

Larsen: Three-hundred pounds. They had to forcibly take her out. She wanted to die in her bed. She didn't want to be moved. And they said "you're going." And the back of the house was on fire as they took her out.

Stoltze: Sixty-nine-year-old Larsen sat in the Sylmar High School gym, now an evacuation center. She's staying with friends, but she came here to get a meal and the latest information on assistance. She fondly remembered the Oakridge Mobile Home Park.

Larsen: It is not a trailer park, and I wish the governor would stop saying that. They are prefabricated homes.

Stoltze: Larsen lived there with her roommate for close to 20 years. They had a four-quad – four attached prefabricated homes for a roomy 2,100 square feet. She described the park as a community.

Larsen: It was first a senior citizens' park, and then they started letting these younger people in because it was illegal to discriminate, and ya know, we all got along. We adopted these young kids coming in. In fact, just three days before the place burned, one of the guys had his baby daughter.

Stoltze: As Larsen chatted on a folding chair surrounded by busy Red Cross volunteers, she reflected on her life. It started at sea.

Larsen: I was born on a ship coming from Denmark to America. My father was a full blooded Dane and my mother was a full-blooded Sioux Indian. I was the white sheep of the family. My four sisters were all dark and I came out fair.

Stoltze: She grew up in Chicago, where she learned to ride horses in Lincoln Park. Her parents died early. She moved to Hollywood when she was 19 years old, and became a stunt rider.

Larsen: Ya know, I did tricks off horses. Ya know, I'd fall off the horse, I'd fall backwards, jump up.
Stoltze: Were you in any movies that we would know?
Larsen: Ben Hur. I drove the chariot for Charlton Heston.

Stoltze: When she got too old to ride, Larsen worked as a social worker for Los Angeles County. She's survived four husbands, four sisters, and several heart attacks. As she enters her eighth decade, she faces a new test.

Larsen: Here I am taking used clothing. Ya know, I always had my own clothes. If I didn't like it, threw it away. Gave it to the welfare department. And now I'm there. Is there anything there I can wear?

Stoltze: This Red Cross volunteer who went to the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina to help out in one disaster has lost all her possessions in another. But Larsen also said friends who've called from all over the country have given her a newfound sense of support. She said she's confident that, and her two cats, will get her through.