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Evacuees who fled to Qualcomm say they hope to go back home

  • Story Highlights
  • Mario Garcia of Rancho Bernardo fled with family after neighbors warned him
  • Roger Heater of Fallbrook received reverse 911 call telling him to evacuate
  • Shervi Balhin, also of Rancho Bernardo, left with family after neighbor told to go
  • Their homes are around San Diego; they're at stadium and hope to return home
  • Next Article in U.S. »
Aaron Brodie
CNN
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Editor's note: Aaron Brodie, a producer for CNN.com, is covering the lives of evacuees staying at Qualcomm Stadium.

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Mario Garcia and his family had 20 minutes to evacuate their home in San Diego, California.

SAN DIEGO, California -- Virtually everyone who fled the wildfires and sought safety at Qualcomm Stadium has a story to tell. Whether it's when they decided to leave, what they decided to take or the sketchy details of what's happening in their neighborhood, every story is different.

CNN.com is talking with those who now call Qualcomm Stadium home and discovering unique tales of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

Mario Garcia lives in the San Diego neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo. He says the wind started blowing really hard Sunday. He thought the wind would die down when he and his family went to sleep Sunday night, but at 5 a.m. Monday, his neighbors came to his house and said they were leaving. Garcia says he later heard that an evacuation order was issued for his neighborhood.

Garcia says they had 20 minutes to leave, and they were confronted with a lot of smoke, falling ash and a strong wind. "It was chaos, it was really bad," says Garcia, who never actually saw the fire. He and his family first went to a friend's house, but they were forced to leave again Monday night.

Garcia and his family are now staying inside Qualcomm Stadium, but he says he's ready to go home. He doesn't know if he has a house to go home to. Despite what's happened the past few days, Garcia says this is a "really nice place to be" and the fires only cause problems two or three days a year. So, Garcia plans to continue living in the San Diego area. Video Watch a report on relief for fire victims »

Roger Heater lives in an apartment complex for senior citizens in Fallbrook, north of San Diego. He says he received a reverse 911 call with instructions to evacuate Tuesday morning. Sheriff's officials also drove through the area giving the evacuation order over loudspeakers.

Heater ended up at Qualcomm Stadium after the first shelter he went to was full. He says conditions at Qualcomm are good. "You couldn't ask for a better thing to happen to you," Heater says. Ice water, soft drinks and coffee are among the choices available to Heater and others who evacuated to the stadium. "It's just been all-around perfect."

Heater says he thinks he will probably stay at the stadium shelter until Friday at the earliest. As far as Heater knows, his apartments are still standing. He also says he likes living in his small town and has no intention of leaving.

Shervi Balhin also lives in the Rancho Bernardo area. She says she and her family left their home at 5 a.m. Monday after her neighbor received a phone call with an evacuation order. She says as they left, the wind was really bad, there was debris everywhere and her eyes were really burning.

Balhin says it's possible she and her family could go home as early as midday Thursday. She doesn't yet know what happened to her home, but she's heard that several buildings near it have burned. Balhin also says the 10-page list of addresses where houses have burned doesn't include her address.

She says she was thinking about leaving the area, but the outpouring of support at Qualcomm Stadium has made her realize how much she loves San Diego.

Tammi McCall lives east of San Diego near Spring Valley. She says she didn't know about the approaching fire Monday night because there was no notification about the particular fire near Spring Valley. She says she and her family decided to leave at 1:00 Tuesday morning when they could see flames coming down from the hills. At first, they went to La Mesa, but they could still see flames. McCall and her family then headed to Qualcomm Stadium.

McCall says she has no idea when they'll be allowed to go back to their home. Even though evacuation orders have been lifted for other areas, fires are still burning near Spring Valley. That's prompting McCall and here family to stay at the stadium for now.

McCall says her family likes living out away from the city, because they can have more space for their three children. "We want the space, and all that space is right where the fires are happening," says McCall. She says they would likely live closer to the city if it weren't for their kids.

John Gutierrez and his family voluntarily packed up and left their home in Chula Vista Tuesday afternoon. He says he couldn't see the fire, but he could smell the smoke, which was very intense. "Every time I opened my front door I would choke," says Gutierrez. He also says the ash, which was everywhere around their home, covered their cars.

Gutierrez and his family left their home to stay with family. On Wednesday afternoon, he stopped by Qualcomm Stadium for a few hours. "This is awesome ... This is amazing how San Diego has come together," Gutierrez said of the relief effort at the stadium.

After his brief visit to the stadium, Gutierrez said he's heading back to his home, which is still standing. It was a close call, however. He said the fire came within five blocks of his home. Like most people we talked with, Gutierrez said he has no plans to leave the San Diego area. "San Diego's the bomb."

Arman and Tufan Nadjafi were forced to leave their home north of San Diego early Monday morning. Arman said his friend called and told him to get ready to evacuate when the official notice came. "It was kind of scary, but we didn't see the fire really," said Tufan. Arman said the family went to a friend's house in La Jolla.

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Arman and Tufan's mother brought them to Qualcomm Stadium Wednesday afternoon because they wanted to see the shelter and how everyone was living. "It's pretty cool actually," said Arman, who pointed out the booths, entertainment and basketball courts at the shelter.

The brothers said they can't go back home with their family yet, because the area is still closed off. Neither Arman nor Tufan seem to have any concern about staying in the San Diego area, and said their house had so far survived the fires. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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