As California Fires Die Down, Halloween Decorations Become the Priority

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: In San Diego's fire-ravished neighborhoods there's a real spirit of hope rising from the embers.

In Del Mar Heights people were out in force Friday picking up supplies at Ralph's and running errands. Most seem to be weathering Firestorm 2007, as the local media are calling it, with grace. Thursday night, a pumpkin stand was teeming as folks readied for Halloween.

The mood here is positive and it shows in the firefighter who makes sure to end our interview on an upbeat note and in Peggy Barbabosa, who's been camping in a Target parking lot in Rancho San Diego since Monday.

"Nobody knows anything so we just be patient and we have to wait and find out," she told me while standing next to the camper she's temporarily calling home. "And then go back and see with your own eyes what has really been destroyed. So we're just hanging in there and being positive. It's what we've got to do."

Before Wednesday, I'd never been to Southern California. And though I'd never witnessed it in all its glory, San Diego does seem to have that bit of Ron Burgundy magic highlighted in the film "Anchorman." Always sunny, despite the smoke.

Notwithstanding the fires, this rugged, arid landscape is breathtaking. Even scorched earth can make for striking landscapes and can elicit an "ah" on picturesque Highway 94 south of the city.

PHOTOS: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5

PHOTOS: uReport 1 | uReport 2

PHOTOS: Residents Return

I got a bit nervous when my cell phone said I'd entered Mexico ... close, but not quite by at least a few miles. (Note to self: Renew that expired passport!) The Border Patrol vehicles that passed in quick succession were more than a hint this was — and remains— a popular smuggling corridor.

So stumbling upon Leon Herzog's Barrett Junction Cafe and Mercantile was a sight to behold. Signs usually offering the famous fish fry at this shop — open since 1915 — now advertised free drinks for anybody who happened to pass by.

Inside a world map stuck with a porcupine's worth of stick pins showed that the cafe had been frequented by thousands from as far as Asia and Africa. Where, I wondered, were they now when help was needed most?

"He's being a saint," Doug Chipton told me of the owner, Leon. In the kitchen, Leon spoke to me while prying open a can of enchilada sauce, which with a little ingenuity would help become a dinner for 50 residents who opted to stay behind the smoldering lines.

Picking up the pieces is never easy, but when you've got a community that thinks of itself as a family, it'll be done, one shovelful at a time.

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