Richard and Shirley Reel, both in their 80s, left their Porter Ranch home with little time to spare Thursday evening, barely getting out before their house was fully engulfed in flames.
The couple fled shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, before mandatory evacuation notices were announced in their neighborhood. They said they took less than 10 minutes to leave as flames from the Saddleridge Fire ignited a palm tree in their backyard and fierce winds sent embers into their back window.
“We started to go out the backyard and it was like it was raining fire,” said Richard Reel, 87.
They returned Saturday to see the what was left of their home, the only one on the block on Eddleston Drive that was fully destroyed by fire. The timbers still stood but the inside of the two-story home was completely charred in almost every room. Two burned sofas smoldered on the sidewalk.
Both were still wearing the clothes on Saturday that they left wearing on Thursday because the couple didn’t even have time to grab a change of clothes. Shirley Reel said she just carried her purse with some medicine.
“We had to make a decision,” Shirley Reel said. “My husband said we got to get out of here and that’s what we did.”
Effective immediately #SaddleRidgefire evacuation orders have been lifted for all areas North of the 210 fwy & East of the 5 fwy including Oak Ridge Mobile Estates.
In addition residents West of Reseda Blvd & South of Sesnon may return home. Latest here ➡️ https://t.co/qkMXMQPmkN
— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) October 12, 2019
Once filled with antiques passed down for generations, their home of 23 years was left a blackened mess. Sunlight shined through holes in the burned-out roof and water dripped down onto a pile of ashes on the floor of the entryway.
“We did get out alive and that’s the important thing,” Richard Reel said.
The Reel’s were one of the unfortunate ones. Out of roughly 23,000 homes where residents were forced to evacuate, the Reel’s home was one of more than two dozen destroyed by a fire that seemed to strike indiscriminately.
Along with the Reel’s house, a home a few blocks over was burned along with another one about a half mile away.
Crews were still working Saturday to get an accurate count on the number of homes that were affected. A cause of the fire, which was 19% contained Saturday, was still under investigation.
Surveying the damage Saturday as insurance adjusters visited the home, Shirley Reel still managed to smile. Almost everything was destroyed, she said – except for about 15 photo albums.
“I’m just thankful they are healthy and they got out of here,” said their son Robert Reel, 60.
Officials lifted most of the mandatory evacuation orders in the previously affected area on Saturday afternoon for all but a section roughly east of Reseda Boulevard and north of Sesnon.
Dozens of cars waited in line earlier Saturday morning at a staging area in a strip mall on Rinaldi Street and Porter Ranch Drive where law enforcement officers met to escort some residents back to their homes to pick up essentials such as medications.
A resident in the Porter Ranch neighborhood, George Alexopolous, who was home Thursday night shot this video of the #SaddleridgeFire about 2 am Friday directly in front of his house. pic.twitter.com/d9s1yESvv5
— David Rosenfeld (@RosenfeldReport) October 12, 2019
George Alexopoulos, 57, evacuated his home in the Porter Ranch neighborhood Thursday night but returned early Friday morning with his 23-year-old son to move his Porsche and check on the house.
Flames at that point had completely lit on fire the brush directly across the street from his home on Brasilia Drive. Large embers about an inch wide were dropping on the front lawn. A nearby palm tree was on fire, and one of the embers lit a part of his hair on fire.
Alexopoulos actively put out flames that ignited a small tree directly under an eve on the front of his home.
“It felt like an oven and the wind started swirling,” he said. “There’s a fine line between protecting your home and being stupid.”