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Local motels become sanctuaries for fire evacuees

Posted: November 18, 2008 7:36 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2008 10:52 p.m.

Judy and Ken Miller unpack belongings they gathered before being evacuated from the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in Sylmar. The Millers were one of the few families whose house was still standing.

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Jody Miller didn't have time to think Friday night.

"When I heard the LAPD coming through on loud speakers screaming we needed to leave, we just grabbed what we could," she said.

The Millers are one of more than 600 families evacuated Friday because of the Sayre Fire. The Millers live in the Oak Ridge Mobile Home Park which was ravaged by fire, Miller said.

Her home survived the fire, but sustained major smoke damage.

For the next 30 days Jody Miller and her husband, Ken, will live in a room at the Residence Inn by Marriott on The Old Road.

The Millers will start rebuilding their lives in December, Jody Miller said.

Friday night started like most night for the Millers.

"Our house has a beautiful view. I sit out there before bed every night and watch my beautiful moon and my hills," Jody Miller said. "Then I saw a huge orange ball come up. In 10 seconds fire was everywhere."

Los Angeles Police Department officers circled the Miller's neighborhood minutes after the fire ignited and ordered an evacuation.

"We were evacuated during the Sesnon Fire and came (to Residence Inn by Marriott). When we heard the evacuation call this time we knew to come here again," Jody Miller said.

More than 20 families are seeking refuge at hotels in the Santa Clarita Valley, said Mariella Gratas, Marriott sales director.

Four hotels in the Santa Clarita Valley including all the Marriott properties and Hampton Inn by Hilton offered 40 percent discounts to evacuees, she said.

Gratas spread the word of the discounted rates at the evacuation center at Sylmar High School Monday. She was overwhelmed by what she saw.

"I went on a sales call to Sylmar yesterday and wow. It's gone," she said. "It's crazy and it doesn't seem like we're getting a break anytime soon."

The Millers hadn't unpacked from their evacuation during the Sesnon Fire before they were back on the run, Ken Miller said.

"The family pictures and our documents were still packed and by the door," he said.

The Millers grabbed their dog Lamby, their cat Sissy, important documents, pajamas and a few clothes and not much else, Jody Miller said.

With only a few things in hand, the couple prayed for their home and avoided watching the news broadcast, she said.

"We watched the news the first day," Jody Miller said. "Now we don't turn on the television unless it's a documentary."

The Millers were allowed back into their neighborhood Tuesday. Their home survived, but the damage will take months to fix.

"I couldn't open my patio doors because of the dirt and soot," Jody Miller said.

The Millers were lucky, others were not, she said.

"My sister lost her home," Jody Miller said.

Her sister spent Tuesday combing through the ashes digging for what the fire didn't scorch, Jody Miller said.

"I feel guilty that I didn't lose my house and very sad especially since my sister lost her house," she said.

Jody and Ken Miller are also mad.

"Where the hell is FEMA?" Jody Miller asked. She and Ken Miller aren't looking for a check or a handout.

"We're pretty well off, but there are other people in our mobile home park that live social security check to social security check," she said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not have agents in the Southern California, said Dick O'Reilly, FEMA spokesman.

"It isn't necessary to go to a FEMA Center to get help. The same process can be completed online or on the phone," he said.

The Sayre Fire changed more than where the Millers will live for the next month.

"I planned to have 20 people at my home for Thanksgiving," she said. "Now we're going to my nephew's house."

Jody Miller held up a Thanksgiving decoration she grabbed from her home seconds before she evacuated.

The tattered banner reminds her to be thankful, Jody Miller said.

"Were it not for God we wouldn't be alive."

FEMA's Web site address is www.fema.gov. FEMA's phone number is (800) 621-3362 or TTY (800) 462-7585.

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