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from the October 31, 2003 edition -

In California, an unquenchable generosity

By Randy Dotinga | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

SAN DIEGO - When fire forced Jim McGinn to flee his home with his 86-year-old mother, his wife, two kids, and a menagerie of pets, a woman they met at a shelter gave them a simple order: "You're coming to live with us. You're staying as long as it takes."

The whole motley crew - a Noah's Ark including two cats, two tortoises, and even two snakes - moved into the woman's small home. A couple of days later, Mr. McGinn returned to find his house in Scripps Ranch intact, though floating embers ignited homes in front and behind.

While not every homeowner has been so fortunate, southern Californians this week have been giving and receiving something that wildfire hasn't been able to consume: open-hearted and open-doored generosity.

Blazes forming an arc from Ventura County north of Los Angeles to near the Mexican border have ravaged arid hillsides and destroyed thousands of homes, but they have also galvanized a magnanimity not always visible in this region of tranquil breezes and stately palm trees.

The Scripps Ranch development here is just one case in point. In this quintessential suburban landscape of cul-de-sacs and out-of-town transplants, citizens are realizing they share more than sunny skies and big mortgages. Everything from organic milk to dog food landed in donation bins - and served only serve to confirm residents' pledges to return and rebuild.

Vanessa Arrendondo, 11, may even get a replacement for the witch outfit she planned to wear on Halloween.

The tide of neighborly assistance across the region has come from individuals and corporations, from traditional charities and ad-hoc alliances. Among the events chronicled in local news coverage:

• The Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Fresno is collecting clothing and blankets for fire victims.

• Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant with a research lab in La Jolla, had planned to celebrate the opening of a building but instead delivered its feast for 1,300 to firefighters and evacuees.

• Among countless tales of firefighting heroics, one homeowner found two teens he didn't know hosing down flames in his backyard when he returned, exhausted, from another property.

• Animal enthusiasts rushed to the aid of back-country ranches and stables. At one rodeo ground alone, 500 horses found refuge.

• After this week's Monday Night Football game was moved from San Diego to Tempe, Ariz., fans at the game donated some $200,000 for fire relief.

• Qualcomm stadium, where the game would have been, was meanwhile an evacuation hub where these unusual words were heard: "Getcher hot dogs! Free hot dogs right here!"


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