FAIRFIELD — John Lalor clasped his hands to his chest Wednesday morning as he walked up the driveway of what used to be his son’s home on the 2800 block Marigold Drive.
“Life changes so quickly,” he said. “All the memories . . . .”
All that’s left of the home is the crumbling front facade – archways barely standing. The rest of the house and contents are simply charred debris on the ground, remnants of the urban grass fire that roared through the neighborhood Tuesday. The home was just one of many destroyed, damaged or affected by the 40-acre fire.
Lalor found out about the fire as he watched the television news.
“I saw there was a fire in the area,” he said. “I recognized some of the trees being similar to what they have here.”
He immediately called his son, Martin Lalor, who was in the process of taking his daughter to a family member’s house to get her away from the scene. Martin Lalor and his daughter were inside their home, napping, when the fire hit.
Next door to the Lalors, Eric Delapa was amazed that his mother-in-law’s home was spared, save for the burned backyard and smoke damage. He pointed to the fire-ravaged backyard and the scorched cement water duct smack against the back of the house. Scorch marks lapped the bottom of the home on a side wall as well.
“It was a miracle,” he said. “My mother-in-law was very fortunate.”
No one was home at his mother-in-law’s house and Delapa was called to get the dog out of the house. He said when he got there, the flames were 30 to 40 feet in the air.
“They wouldn’t let me in,” he said.
He said a firefighter went in and rescued the dog.
Delapa pointed to the Lalor house and said, “They lost everything.” He said a tricycle that was sitting on his mother-in-law’s property was all that seemed to be left.
“That’s all he has left out of everything,” he said, staring, dumfounded, at the back of the home.
As far as the eye could see, the brush area between the Interstate 80 retaining wall and the homes that back up to the wall was blackened. Eucalyptus trees, Italian cyprus and palm trees were charred right to their tops. The fire randomly jumped to homes, burning some but leaving others unscathed, saved for blackened backyards.
“They were really lucky they didn’t lose the whole neighborhood,” Delapa said. “It was just a bad situation. But I thought the (firefighters) did a good job. It could have been a lot worse.”
Battalion Chief Bob Stoffel said officials are still putting together damage estimates and the numbers wouldn’t be available for a couple of days. But, he said, “It’s a million-plus (dollars).”
Stoffel said the Fire Department was still on scene, tamping out hot spots. He called the eucalyptus trees “standing gasoline.”
“They oil up this time of year and it just goes,” he said.
Capt. John Sturdee was on the scene since the first fire call Tuesday afternoon. He was still on Marigold Drive Wednesday morning, save for a two-hour nap. He said the original call came in as a roadside fire, so they responded from the Interstate 80 side. As soon as Sturdee saw fire in the backyards, he said they started reassigning, sending units to Marigold.
“We knew right away we were in trouble,” Sturdee said. Along with foliage, Sturdee also said that the wind was a factor in the fire’s spread.
Delapa said the brush between the retaining wall and the yards garnered a lot of complaints because it “wasn’t maintained as it should be.” He pointed to odd spots of brush that didn’t burn and remarked how tall it was.
“Everything is dry, it’s like a tinderbox,” he said.
Who owns that easement that runs between the retaining wall and the residences along Marigold, is the “$64,000 question,” said Gale Spears, Fairfield’s communications manager.
“We don’t know at this point,” she said. “We’re looking at everything that has to do with that area of the homes.”
The city is meeting with other outside agencies to determine who owns the land.
“There was fuel there,” she said, when talking about the brush between the wall and the homes. “But at the end of the day, we don’t want to point fingers at any agency. We want to do diligence in working with all agencies that have any type of ownership with that area.”
While the scene wasn’t as chaotic Wednesday as on Tuesday, neighbors and family members were still stunned as they walked through the neighborhood. The area most affected was still blocked by barriers. Fire and police personnel were on scene, as were insurance agents, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. workers, fire and water restoration teams, content salvagers and the media. The American Red Cross pulled in late morning.
Several houses down from Delapa and Lalor, Maria Cortez stood in front of her daughter’s destroyed house. During the fire, she said, her sons pulled out of the garage a Camaro, Corvette and two motorcycles to save them. They sat in the driveway, undamaged.
The front yard is intact, but the boarded-up garage and windows, plus gaping holes in the roof, tell a different story about the inside. She said her daughter spent the night in the front yard to “protect the house.”
“Our primary concern is those displaced families,” Spears said.
About 10 churches, Mission Solano and Kaiser Permanente have joined to put together a support team, Spears said. The team is called Solano Community Support Team and it’s specifically for victims of the Marigold Drive fire.
Those interested in helping the victims are asked to call Marilyn Ojeda at 208-4101.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.