Residents still displaced after Alpine West Fire

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The West Fire that started on July 6 of this year took the community of Alpine by surprise just before noon and with a speed aroused by strong winds it doubled in size in record time, burning more than 500 acres of land and destroying almost 75 buildings before being contained.

Two months since the disaster, dozens of people are still without permanent housing, living in hotels or in their cars.

The West Fire that started on July 6 of this year took the community of Alpine by surprise just before noon and with a speed aroused by strong winds it doubled in size in record time, burning more than 500 acres of land and destroying almost 75 buildings before being contained.

Two months since the disaster, dozens of people are still without permanent housing, living in hotels or in their cars.

To help them out, the community of Alpine, led by Stephanie Sorrels, organized a fundraiser geared mostly toward the uninsured and underinsured former homeowners with no available resources to rebuild their homes.

Sorrels lives in Boulevard, but that did not stop her from volunteering during the fire to help evacuate the people and the animals.

“That day, I met a few of the survivors and it broke my heart just watching the fire burn their homes,” she said.

Sorrels said there are approximately 20 fire survivors still displaced out of 45 families affected, and there are 5 survivors “in pretty bad shape” who could really use a neighborly hand.

“Some are still in hotels, one that will have nowhere to go after the first of October and one living in his truck,” said Sorrels. 

Sorrels said she did not know the victims before the fire, but friendships were built quickly.

“I feel like they are my family, so I can’t quit,” she said.

The American Legion in Alpine donated the location, while the Alpine Lions Club, among other organizations, sponsored the cost of food and other needed supplies. More than 250 people attended the event, enjoying the live band, a car show, horseback riding and face painting, assisted by 20 local volunteers. The firefighters from Alpine and Japatul were guests of honors.

Nick Rees, firefighter with the United States Forest Services, was on the job on the day the West Fire started. Rees remembered the fire was already developing when he and his colleagues were deployed. “I want to say it was definitely more than 100 acres by the time we got here and started doing structure protection,” Rees said. “We were doing 16-hour shifts on it and that lasted roughly five or six days.”

Rees said his brother got him motivated to become a firefighter with the Forest Services.

“He told me I would be a good fit because I like the outdoors and I like to do physical work,” he said. “It’s good to do something helpful for the community.”

Rees said he is not afraid of dangerous situations because he received lots of training.

“Our training kicks in and we are able to err on the side of safety, but in the same time to be aggressive as well,” he said.

Kathryn Ruedy from Alpine saw the fire approaching and evacuated even before it became mandatory.

“I looked outside and I could see the Santa Ana winds and I knew it’s going to be extremely hot,” she said. “I told my students, this is the perfect storm unfortunately. These are the days that we are fearful of in the back country.”

Ruedy went outside to water the garden around noon when she saw black smoke carried by strong winds coming right to her home.

“It looked very serious,” she said. “We didn’t even discuss it. We went in the house, got our important papers and our computers, got in the car and drove away.”

Ruedy came back two days later to find her family home intact, but the fire was not that forgiving with her neighbors’ homes.

“I care about this community,” she said. “I want to help raise money for families who are underinsured or uninsured.”

Clarice Jackson, an Alpine resident, said she came to thank the fire department and to donate for the victims, explaining that “my sister’s house almost burned up in the fire and they had to evacuate.”

Walter Ruedy joined in, saying he was very close to the fire as well, almost half a mile from the heat.

For more information on how to receive help or donate to the victims, visit the Alpine Community Network at http://www.alpinecommunitynetwork.com/category/fire-alerts/.

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