Local News

Wednesday, Jul 28 2010 09:06 PM

Residents share stories of saving, losing homes to West Fire

  1. 1 of 3

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    "Hope springs eternal," Bert Bockover says, reflecting Wednesday afternoon on the West Fire near Tehachapi that destroyed his trailer. He is grateful much of his property was not destroyed as the flames burned the area.

    click to expand click to collapse
  2. 2 of 3

    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    A Kern County fire helicopter piloted by Patrick Williams lands for fuel. The Bell UH1H uses 100 gallons of fuel an hour and carries up to 400 gallons of water as it fights the West Fire near Tehachapi Wednesday afternoon.

    click to expand click to collapse
  3. 3 of 3

    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Fire crews work a crest of a ridge at the West Fire near Tehachapi Wednesday afternoon.

    click to expand click to collapse
BY STEVE E. SWENSON, Californian staff writer sswenson@bakersfield.com

Jeannine Giuffre has a new favorite color: Phos-Chek pink.

That's the brand name and color of the fire retardant that wraps around the southern side of her 2,600-square-foot, top-of-a-hill house off Pearce Road that Tuesday afternoon had a wall of fire moving right at it, she said.

Standing outside the house that she shares with her husband, Joe, and a 12-year-old son, A.J., she talked about the unusual southwest winds that brought the fire and dense smoke to her backyard.

A Kern County Fire Department helicopter flew overhead as she talked, interrupting herself to say, "They saved us."

When she left, "we didn't think it was going to be saved." But it was and she exclaimed, "Our house is still here and I'm deeply grateful that it is."

While firefighters certainly deserve some credit, Giuffre is no slouch in the defensive space game. After all, she's president of the Greater Tehachapi Fire Safe Council, a nonprofit group that obtains grants for fire safety projects, including a break in the Old West Ranch community.

"Joe cut a lot of trees to make the house safe," her husband, a sergeant in the Kern County Sheriff's Department, reminded her to say. While that's true, the whole family cleared areas around the home to give it a chance in a fire they expected for some time, she said.

She's also up on evacuation procedures, having lost a Rosedale house 20 years ago, and learned that photo albums and pets (four dogs, two goats, four chickens and one bird) are in the high-priority save category. But she also put all flammable items such as patio cushions inside the house and she watered around the house as much as she could.

It was practicing what she preached.

***

After the West Fire began Tuesday, Bert Bockover, 57, got a call from his friend, George Plesko, who told him, "You won't believe it. The fire went completely around your place."

Bockover was at another home he has in Water Canyon, about five miles to the west.

About 20 minutes later, Plesko called again to tell him about his trailer off Blackburn Canyon Road: "It's totally engulfed in flames."

That's how fast things changed in the fire that is believed to have damaged 25 to 40 structures.

Bockover is thankful he still has a place to live, but he's sad that he lost some photographs, some dishes and pans given to his wife, April, by her grandmother, and a homemade, Indian cradleboard that he used to carry his daughter, Rebekah, when she was a baby.

Bockover said he's made a lot of friends on the ranch and he was "most worried about all the people in here." Thankfully, there are no reports of injuries, firefighters said.

There are actually a few trailers on a half-acre of ground cleared out by he and his neighbors. One neighbor, 52-year-old Dave Salas, drove to the property at about noon Wednesday and learned for the first time his home was spared.

"I'm amazed," Salas said.

Bockover had another perspective about Salas: "Good things happen to good people."

***

Brent Scheibel, 46, and his wife, Teri, have lived in a little red house for the last 18 years. He said he takes fire prevention very seriously, even to the point of having a water truck and a special spray gel to protect his house.

When the fire started Tuesday, he drove the water truck to try to put out the fire. He quickly realized his water truck wasn't going to stop the blaze.

So he went back to his home, prepared to evacuate and sprayed his home with Barricade Gel, a substance he bought five years ago.

"We prayed we never would have to use it, but we knew we would," he said.

Tuesday was the day. It's a fine powder that absorbs water, much like a diaper, he said. It protects a home, as he witnessed Tuesday, from hot embers that fall on it.

"My shirt was full of holes" from the embers but the house didn't burn, he said.

He said he was grateful to firefighters who arrived in six engines and on three bulldozers and kept the fire away.

Scheibel also thanked the Teragen company and its RMR Water Trucks, which during the fire have kept a dipping tank full of water near his home so helicopters can reload in less than a minute rather than taking a 20-minute round-trip to the glider airport.

His house is still standing "so far," he said.

Have something to share? Comment on this story

Bakersfield.com Daily Deal!

Active 20/30 Festival of Beers

Daily Deal

50% off tickets to The Festival of Beers

Value
$40
% Off
50%
You Save
$20
14 Bought
Buy Now! See more deals