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Fires displace couple separately


Last updated 10/27/2007 at Noon

When James Gordon said goodbye to his girlfriend Nanette Malmstrom last Friday, he had no idea how impossible their reunion would be.

Gordon left his girlfriend and her two teenage children at his home in Lake Henshaw to house sit while he went to a friend's country home in Running Springs. His friends had gone on a trip of their own, and they lent him their house so he could have a quiet vacation spot all to himself. Gordon suffers from migraines, and the trip was supposed to help him relax.

He lost all hope for that when he got an automated "reverse 911" phone call Monday ordering him to evacuate. "I thought, 'You got to be kidding me,'" he said in an interview

Wednesday. He waited at the house to see if it could be a false alarm.

At first, he thought he could wait it out at the house. "It seemed fine," he said, "but then I walked outside and saw a whole bunch of smoke and ash coming over the mountain." He got his friend's two big boxer dogs into his truck and tore down the mountain.

The police closed off Highway 330 just after he emerged. He pulled over to talk to officers and other people standing on the side of the road watching the smoke spew over the mountain. He heard an evacuation site was in Temecula, at the Community Recreation Center on Rancho Vista Road. He decided to go there, because it was closer to his home, and he had friends who lived there.

At the CRC he ran into his neighbor, Daryl Mindelhal, by chance. Mindenhall told Gordon a fire was creeping toward their neighborhood in Lake Henshaw. All roads to the area were closed and his neighborhood was evacuated. He thought of Malmstrom and her daughters.

Malmstrom and her daughters were preoccupied with the fire, but otherwise were trying their best to spend some time together as a family. "I felt kind of sure it wasn't coming this way," she said in an interview Wednesday from an evacuation camp in Borrego Springs.

That evening, Malmstrom stepped outside to enjoy the sunset, but to her surprise, thick, black smoke was blanketing the sun. "The whole horizon was just burning," she said. She told her daughters to pack up their things. She stuffed a suitcase with Gordon's photos, poetry and sculptures and threw them into her car.

Meanwhile, Gordon left the evacuation site and found refuge in a friend's trailer in Menifee. He called a friend to search for the boundaries of the fire's burn zone, and it seems his home is safe for now. "I'm hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. That way I'm not disappointed," he said.

Malmstrom and her daughters have been sleeping in a shelter at Borrego Springs High School since Tuesday. Since arriving at the evacuation site she has learned that firefighters are battling the flames a few thousand feet from her home in Julian. "As long as my family's safe, I'm okay, but I just hope we have a house to go home to," she said. Her voice quivered as she spoke. "I really miss James, and I wish he was here."


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