FAIRFIELD — Fairfield’s disaster recovery team had its first neighborhood meeting Thursday with residents whose lives were thrown into chaos when the Marigold Drive fire gutted or heavily damaged their homes.
“Good morning, neighbors,” city Communications Manager Gale Spears said. “We’re out here for you this morning . . . . We just want to talk to you and make sure you have what you need as you’re going through this difficult time.”
The fire started at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday along Interstate 80, got into trees and then spread to the neighborhood on the other side of the stone sound wall. It left five homes uninhabitable and 10 others with heavy damage.
Spears, the disaster recovery team and the fire victims stood on Marigold Drive in front of two gutted homes, the faint smell of charred wood still in the air. Team members introduced themselves: the building officials who can help residents cut through red tape while rebuilding, the Fire Department chaplain who is there for their emotional needs, the public works officials ready to bring in large trash bins, and others.
“Our role today is really to answer your questions,” Spears said.
This was done one-on-one, not in the group setting. Spears said everyone’s situation is different.
Gene and Verna Gray sat in card table chairs under a tree in their front yard, looking at their gutted house. They were celebrating their 47th wedding anniversary on the day of the fire, living in a one-story home they had lived in for 39 years, where they had raised their children and held family events with their grandchildren.
“And it’s all gone,” Verna Gray said.
“There’s not much the city can do,” Gene Gray said. He said insurance will handle most issues.
In front of them, behind a chain-link fence, two firefighters sifted through the rubble. Family members helped remove salvageable items. Verna Gray cried when presented with a framed photo of the aunt and uncle who raised her. It was singed but still intact.
Gene Gray is also dealing with the emotional aftermath.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” he said. “I don’t cry.”
Family members are there for them.
“What’s amazing is our daughter (raises) foster kids and the foster kids are marvelous,” Verna Gray said. “They are pitching in and helping.”
On their lawn sat a pile of record albums. The Grays waited to see if any other items would get pulled from the wreckage, a television crew filming them and asking questions. The Grays answered politely.
Darrol Prill and his wife Angie came to the city’s disaster recovery team meeting. The Prill’s house suffered roof damage from the fire and water and smoke damage inside. The roof is collapsing.
Prill couldn’t say whether the city is taking the right approach in the wake of the disaster, though he had no criticisms.
“I don’t know what direction is the right direction,” Prill said. “I’m just one of those guys going, ‘Hey, what do I have to do to get to tomorrow?’ ”
Questions probably need to be asked about the emergency response, but that’s for another day, he said.
For Prill, a pressing matter is the possessions that remain in a room of his house that’s still intact. He hopes to start removing items this weekend.
He works at Travis Air Force Base and is living there at the moment. Insurance will then provide temporary living space, he said.
Fire Battalion Chief Matt Luckenbach walked along the street where he had helped fight the fire on Tuesday, at this particular moment having none of the residents asking him questions.
He looked at the trees around some of the homes – charred eucalyptuses, cypresses and palms. Each is a type that can make firefighting difficult. For example, a eucalyptus contains large amounts of combustible oils.
He recalled the day of the fire, when the wind was blowing hard and he had to decide what houses could be saved and which could not. He compared the tough choices to a medical official having to do triage.
“This was sort of a stacked deck, as far as potential goes,” Luckenbach said.
Firefighters had to make decisions on the spur of the moment using established firefighting principles. Luckenbach said the post-mortem will be coming up, when firefighters look at how they reacted to the fire and how they can improve.
On Thursday, though, the city put the emphasis on helping and comforting the fire victims. Spears gave the residents phone numbers they could use to contact city officials over the Labor Day weekend.
“Neighbors, I want you to know this community just keeps giving,” Spears said. “We’ve had folks call as far away as South America to ask how they can support Marigold Drive in Fairfield, California.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.