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Time Capsule: The Marek Fire was like a Dream

March 17, 2009

20081013_IMG_4862This week, I’ll be posting stories I’ve written these past few months while in my first year at USC’s graduate journalism program. Enjoy — and be sure to let me know what you think.

Dortha Jones Vestal thought she was dreaming when her son told her before dawn on Monday, Oct. 13 they had to evacuate from their Lake View Terrace home because of the Marek Fire.

Vestal says her son woke her up and said, “Mommy, one of the neighbors just called and said you guys are surrounded by fire.”

“And I was like, ‘Yeah, right,'” Vestal says.

With a helicopter hovering above the community and an official standing in the street announcing a mandatory evacuation, this was not a dream.  Vestal, a pastor for advanced age seniors at the Baptist Church of Pacoima, says faith in God helped calm her down during the one-and-a-half hours she had to grab all her valuables and evacuate her home.  After the smoke in the air affected her voice, she communicated for three days by writing everything down.

Vestal was one of more than 1200 people evacuated from their homes because of the Marek Fire, which burned 4824 acres and was 100 percent contained on Thursday, Oct. 16 around midnight, according to officials.

Vestal believes “it was only the hands of the Lord” that saved her home from being one of the 40 that were destroyed by the Marek Fire.

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People directly affected by natural disasters like the Marek Fire sometimes lose their faith in God altogether, says June Loo, Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services Coordinator.

“The first thing people want to ask is ‘Why?’  And that’s just not something you can answer.”

More often, though, Loo says religion gives people comfort and peace after they have been hit financially or physically by a natural disaster.  She has found the same response from those affected by the recent economic downturn.

Veola Gatewood, a Lake View Terrace resident and Baptist Church of Pacoima member, says her first reaction to the mandatory evacuation announcement from the street Monday morning was fear, then prayer.

“People are scared,” Loo says, but religion “gives them hope for the future.”

Loo, along with Red Cross officials, waited at the Hubert. H. Humphrey Recreation Center for Marek Fire victims seeking aid.  Vestal sought aid at nearby San Fernando High School, but aside from some food from the Salvation Army, she was disappointed that she did not qualify for any Red Cross vouchers.  Red Cross officials at the recreation center said they give vouchers to those whose homes have been significantly damaged by the fire – Vestal’s dust-covered home does not meet that standard.  Gatewood, whose house was also not damaged by the fire, stayed with her daughter in Sylmar after being evacuated and did not seek aid from the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.

Unlike the Christian-based Salvation Army, the Red Cross remains impartial about religion.

“We stay neutral so that we can help more people,” says Tim Dunar, Red Cross district coordinator for the greater Los Angeles area.  “We’re more accepted that way.”

The Christmas gifts Vestal had already bought for her children and grandchildren may all be coated with a thick layer of dust, but she’s thankful to be alive.  After being evacuated Monday morning and again on Tuesday after she returned to retrieve more belongings, Vestal is back in her home but, because of her bronchitis, only with a mask.  Her family plans to clean the dust from the home one room at a time.

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One comment

  1. […] in the Journey blog Time Capsule: Crenshaw Square Celebrates Obama’s InaugurationTime Capsule: The Marek Fire was like a DreamA Brief Tribute to PigeonsWhere Does Crenshaw’s Marlton Square Fit Into Local Redevelopment […]



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