A fiery story

Submitted by Judy on Fri, 11/23/2007 - 1:44pm.

One of the area’s more, shall we say, interesting dining establishments recently was not a newly opened theme restaurant or even an established eatery, but the Del Mar Race Track, where thousands of evacuated refugees from San Diego’s raging fires found solace, comfort and more than sustenance.

“The food was great and the experience uplifting,” said Mark Sherman of Del Mar Heights, who got what he termed “our first reverse 911 call” to get ready at about six pm on Monday, October 22, followed by the evacuation order a couple of hours later.

“This was not your New Orleans nightmare,” he said. “About a thousand evacuees at the shelter were all cooperative, supportive, and well managed by the uniformed Army and National Guard personnel.”

The shelter was located under the stands of the racetrack, where, during summer, guests with far less on their minds leisurely stroll through the Del Mar Fair Art Show.

Once inside, the Shermans were directed to the far end of the area reserved for people without pets. “We were assisted to cots carried by a military escort,” Sherman said. “They provided toothbrushes, etc. The pillows, blankets and sheets were all new and still in the package, I think from Wal-Mart.”

The couple got to sleep at about two am and awoke at about six to the smell of fresh coffee. “People were lining up for breakfast,” he recalled, “coffee, fruit, milk, cereals, hot bagels and cream cheese from Garden State Bagels, then trays of Krispy Kreme donuts. My two ‘emergency’ Nature Valley granola bars and the water we brought was a joke. They had enough water to bring life to the desert and enough granola bars, pretzels, chips, candy, and snack food to feed Iraq for a year.”

But the cuisine didn’t end there. Lunch began with hot dogs and McDonald's burgers and Happy Meals for the kids. “Then came barbecued brisket, baked ziti, and cole slaw. For dessert there were quart baskets of fresh organic strawberries as well as other fruit, including quart jars of sliced mango. Much of the food was provided by Costco. We must have really looked old, because we were also offered cans of Ensure – to keep us alive, I guess.

“Anyone for pudding? Would you like chocolate or butterscotch? Anyone need a bottle of hand sanitizer? Not a problem.” Baby food, diapers, even pet food were in abundance. TV monitors, used during the track season to display the races while people place their bets, kept everyone abreast of the fire developments.

“At about noon,” Sherman noted, “the newscasts announced that our Del Mar Heights neighborhood was being released from mandatory evacuation, so we packed up and came home. There were many more displaced people at Qualcomm Stadium, closer to downtown San Diego. They too were all well fed and cared for. They had what we had, plus Yoga classes, massages, and local bands playing music.

“We can't say enough positive things about the San Diego Office of Emergency Preparedness, who had to handle the situation by themselves on short notice because the Red Cross was unavailable, already committed to caring for fire victims further north in California.

“Of course, the downside to this ‘party,’” he said, “was that well over a thousand families have lost their homes and face daunting challenges. We're the lucky ones, having dodged the bullet and having just to contend now with cleaning up the soot and unloading two cars full of ‘stuff’ we chose to save to be re-stuffed into drawers and hung back on walls.”

Unfortunately, dear friends of the Shermans lost everything when their Valley Center home burned. They have seven children, the youngest being eight-month-old twin girls. Three of the wife’s brothers also lost their homes. The families have already received considerable donations of clothing, toys, and household items from their friends and their church, but anyone wishing to contribute cash can make out a check to Linda and Jim Juaregui and send it c/o Mark Sherman, 13515 Mira Montana Dr., Del Mar, CA 92014.

“After your fire insurance policy,” asked Sherman, “what would you pack if you had to leave in an hour?”