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Mobile home dwellers ride out wildfire, wait for help to arrive

  • Story Highlights
  • Mother, 76, stays at mobile home park with son and foster son
  • Men save trailers by removing propane tanks, shoveling dirt
  • Trio waiting for help to come with water, food, batteries
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From Aaron Brodie
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DULZURA, California (CNN) -- Three hardy souls fought a desperate battle against a wildfire that destroyed nearly everything around them, and now they're fighting to survive the aftermath.


John Gibbons waits by the road for someone to come by and help him and his family.

Mantha Carter, 76, her son John Gibbons, 42, and foster son David Flores, 44, were the only residents of Barrett Lake Mobile Home and RV Park who stayed as the 84,000-acre Harris Fire roared through Dulzura on Sunday.

"It was coming this way, and you could see the trailers burning left and right and all around," Gibbons said. "I guess there was a plan for us to survive, but it was scary."

After Border Patrol officers ordered the evacuation for the area about 35 miles east of San Diego, the family briefly went up the road to the home of an 18-year-old friend but had him bring them back as the fire drew nearer. The neighbor's home burned down with his two dogs inside while he was gone, and he later went to stay with his grandparents in San Diego, Flores said.

Carter, Gibbons and Flores remained behind and rode out the fire, which took an hour to burn through the park, Gibbons said.

The park's only fire hydrant and three water storage tanks were dry, the men said, so they kept the flames at bay with dirt. They saved their two trailers and two others. Video Watch the kind of fire protection rich residents can get »

"All you could see was orange," Gibbons said, "and that's not my favorite color."

Gibbons said the thought of dying "never crossed my mind really. I was just doing what I could do with what little I had, and that was just a shovel."

The men removed propane tanks from several homes and put them in a paved area that wasn't likely to burn.

"It was scary -- propane tanks exploding left and right," Flores said. "I was just worried for my mom."

Flores had one fallback option if all else failed.

"If it actually got to the point to where our house was going to burn, I was going to take her and the dogs, and we would jump in the [community] pool and sit there in the middle of the pool until the fire was over and burned through," he said.

The trio and their homes survived, but the battle isn't over. Now they are stranded in the barren, remote hills east of San Diego with no fresh water, no electricity, little food, dying radio batteries and no transportation.

They didn't hitch a ride into town with their friend because only one passenger fits in the cab of his pickup and they were afraid he'd get in trouble if they rode in the back, Flores said.

Firefighters passing through have given them a few bottles of water and pieces of fruit, but otherwise they're on their own until help comes to them, he said.

Officials have said roads into the area could remain closed into next week. The Harris fire was still only 20 percent contained early Friday.

"The only thing I'm worried about is her [Carter]," Flores said. "As far as me and John, we're young, we can survive it. But if it gets too hot and she doesn't have enough water or something to drink, I'm sure we'll lose her, because she's on medication as it is."


Hard as it is, Carter appears content.

"Thank God we're alive," she said. "We're all here, all three of us and our two dogs." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jim Kavanagh contributed to this report.

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