The flames are being extinguished in the hills above Sylmar, where the Creek Fire has scorched 15,619 acres and reduced 60 homes and 63 outbuildings to ashes, damaging 55 other houses and 26 outbuildings. And Sylmar wasn’t the only community under siege. Overall, the six major Southland fires ranging from West Los Angeles to Ventura and Santa Barbara counties that first started burning on Dec. 5 have destroyed more than 1,000 structures…and the count is still rising.
Santiago Estates, a housing complex behind El Cariso Park, is one of the areas that was hit hard by the Creek Fire. Eighteen houses were destroyed in the storm of fire, high winds and heat that seemed to gut everything in its path.
The smell of burned wood and earth is still present. An eerie silence permeates some areas. Green screens cover the remains of structures where, only a few days ago, people were preparing for the holidays. Christmas decorations still adorn some homes that stood little chance from the embers that flew like bullets in the midst of a conflagration that sent people running for their lives.
Total destruction is visible at the corner of Via San Diego and Via Santa Barbara inside the complex just off Gavina Avenue, the main road in the area. Three houses there, next to each other were destroyed. Debris and rubble is all that remains of one. The next one still has a door that leads into an empty lot. And the last one retains the front shell, but nothing more.
Raymond Yepez spent the last 15 years in the last home.
On Dec 5, as fire ran up the hill behind his house – where on a clear day they could see a good part of the northeast San Fernando Valley – Yepez tried desperately to hold off the flames lapping at his house. Yepez made his stand as his wife and 10-year-old daughter tried to retrieve important documents inside.
But his fight was futile.
“My house caught on fire. I couldn’t save it,” says the man who battled one of the biggest fires in the area with a single water hose.
“The embers got too bad and I couldn’t put it out,” he explains. “It just came so fast because of the wind.”
He had been through fires before that threatened structures in the hills nearby. He couldn’t know at the time how dangerously different this fire was. In mere minutes, the flames reached his house and seemed to engulf everything around him.
“It always gets close, but you never think it’s going to happen to you,” he said.
“I was trying to put the fire out. I couldn’t see anything. The flames were all over me. My daughter was screaming because she thought my truck was on fire.”
Yepez, a construction worker lost all his tools. The family lost all their clothes and everything else they had acquired in 15 years of hard work.
“Everything’s gone,” he said, trying to hold back tears.
The house was paid off, but Yepez, unfortunately, didn’t have fire insurance.
“I don’t know what to do,” he admitted.
The family has been staying with relatives, but it’s not the same.
Indeed, nothing will ever be the same.
“It’s really hard,” Yepez said.
Another family that lost their home here is the Hernandez family.
Javier and Lupe Hernández who are now homeless, lost everything they had worked to obtain in 15 years. The damages to the house are well over $130,000, but the insurance will only cover a fraction. They hope to raise $50,000 to cover the gap.
They established a GoFundMe account (https://www.gofundme.com/4tj0tx4) for help.
“They are in need of money to temporarily find a home and replace their most needed necessities like clothes and beddings,” said Tele Jimenez, a relative on the GoFundMe site. “It’s a devastating time for the Hernandez family. I ask that you please help out and give what you can. They are still in shock and any help would be greatly appreciated.”
At press time, they had only raised a little over $5,400.
Javier Hernandez told CBS News Los Angeles the family lost everything, including mementos and family heirlooms.
“Each item we had was of a memory or something somebody had given us,” Hernandez said.
“To me it was 15 years of living here, flashing by, memories. I thought ‘my family is okay if it’s going to burn, it’s going to burn.’”