SAN DIEGO - Survivors of firestorms that destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Southern California found reasons yesterday to be thankful even as the damage toll mounted and firefighters worked to contain blazes.
Fire officials kept an eye on warm, dry weather that moved in behind a moist, tropical system that allowed fire crews to make gains Saturday. Winds up to 15 miles per hour were expected but were not considered a problem.
"This is fire conditions that we can actively fight, unlike the Santa Ana winds," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
But there was a possibility of strong offshore winds in another seven days, he said.
It was the onset of the seasonal Santa Anas - fierce, dry winds blowing from the desert and out to sea - that spread fires across more than 500,000 acres of Southern California during the week, chasing a half-million people from communities as homes burned.
As of yesterday, the state Office of Emergency Services tallied 2,767 structures destroyed, including 2,013 homes.
With more than a dozen fires fully surrounded, firefighters were pushing to complete lines around seven others. Containment of those blazes ranged from 50 percent to 97 percent.
Despite the destruction, so many who lost so much still gave thanks at church services in some of the hardest-hit communities.
At the Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church, where 60 families lost their homes, they said they were grateful for the big things: their lives, relatives, and friendships. They also gave thanks for small things: a hug, a shoulder to cry on.
At Crestline, in the Lake Arrowhead region of the fire-ravaged San Bernardino Mountains, about 25 members of the Community Presbyterian Church had to piece together a worship service because their interim pastor couldn't get a resident's card, the crucial piece of identification needed to drive past roadblocks.
Members hugged and rejoiced over the congregation's fortune: The fire had spared all local members' homes, a woman had given birth to a healthy boy after fleeing her home, and power had stayed on for those who disobeyed the order to leave town.
Symbolizing the region's improving outlook, San Diego's
The San Diego Chargers' game against the Houston Texans brought out crowds of tailgaters after a week in which it had appeared the contest would have to be moved.
Before the game, the crowd gave an ovation to a group of firefighters, law enforcement officers, and National Guard members. Four firefighters led the Chargers onto the field, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, surrounded by fire and police chiefs, presided over the coin toss.
Heidi Schutte was among volunteers soliciting the crowd for donations to aid fire victims. Her bucket was filled with $5 and $10 bills. "People have been very generous. There's no change in here - all bills," she said.