After fire, neighbors feel more like neighbors |

After fire, neighbors feel more like neighbors

The remains of an antique seed sower after the Panorama fire August 2, 2002. The site will be host to a special barbecue in honor of the firefighters who helped in the blaze. Paul Conrad photo.

Last week’s Panorama fire brought neighbors in the hardest-hit area of Missouri Heights closer together – in more ways than one.

Neighbors that used to be separated and secluded by thick brush are now substantially more visible. And now that they can see one another, they’re going to celebrate with one another. The neighbors in the Spring Park Reservoir area will throw a picnic Sunday to honor the firefighters who protected their property.

Residents of Homestead Acres and an upscale subdivision across the road by Spring Park Reservoir were mostly secluded from one another before the fire. They were tucked into private pockets shielded by gambol oak brush, pinon and juniper trees.

The vegetation that provided such great screening also fed the inferno that charred about 1,500 acres, destroyed two homes and a tepee used as a residence, and damaged two other houses.

Now that only black, skeletal trunks of shrubs and scorched earth remain on hillsides and flat lands by the reservoir, the houses seem a lot closer.

“With the loss of the vegetation I feel like I’m naked,” said Herb Weisbard, one of several homeowners whose property survived a close call.

The fire burned his entire 3 1/2-acre property and right up to his earth-berm, solar house. Cribbing on either side of the front of the house caught on fire, as did door frames and a small section of the roof. His windows were cracked and damaged, and the tepee he rented was destroyed.

Weisbard returned home Friday although the ground was still smoldering and his roof leaked. An estimated 300 residents had been evacuated. All were able to return home by the weekend.

“I could have stayed in a hotel or motel but there’s something about sleeping in your own home regardless of the circumstances,” said Weisbard.

Weisbard was thankful he had something left to return to. He credits firefighters who pulled an engine right to his front door and beat back flames that licked at the exposed front of his house.

“These guys literally put their lives on the line for me,” said Weisbard. “There’s nothing I could say that could express my gratitude.”

That exact sentiment was expressed by John Randle, who splits time between Houston and Missouri Heights. His house is a quarter of a mile away from Weisbard and their property abuts, but they hadn’t met until Monday.

“I guess it takes a fire or some other disaster to bring neighbors together,” said Weisbard while meeting with Randle again Wednesday to discuss revegetation plans.

Randle was in Texas when the fire broke out, and he went to bed last Wednesday convinced that his house was destroyed. He learned Thursday it only received minor damage.

Fire burned all around and right up to his log house with wood shake shingles. It caught the carport and an exterior wall on fire. Randle said he was told that firefighters had to leave the area briefly when the flames swept by, then they quickly returned and stopped the fire from spreading.

Randle saw the damage firsthand Monday. Much of his 42 acres was scorched.

“I was in awe at the efforts of the firemen. Somebody told me they were fighting just like their own children were in there,” he said. “It was pure, blind determination by the firefighters.”

To show their gratitude, Randle and nearby resident Sandy Smith organized the picnic Sunday evening for people who live in the affected area and for the firefighters who protected their property.

“We thought we would call it a picnic rather than a barbecue,” said Smith while gazing at the scorched land around Weisbard’s home. They also thought it best to hold the event indoors, for obvious reasons.

Some residents of the charred neighborhood will also come together today to discuss revegetation plans for the area. Randle has hired John Buerger of Alpha Natural Pest Controls and Fertilizers to revegetate his land and wants neighbors to have the opportunity as well. Buerger avoids chemical-based fertilizers. He plans to introduce microbes into the soil over the next two years.

His approach, he said, will make it tougher for thistles and other weeds to invade the scorched area and to promote growth of desirable grasses and vegetation.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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