Building in Disaster-Prone Areas

For rural San Diegans, neighborhood design and building can make a world of difference in an emergency.t

As officials and developers eye real estate in rural areas as solutions to the area’s housing crises, some residents fear increasingly dense neighborhoods will put them and their families in danger when — not if — the next wildfire burns. Many of these photos originally appeared in a News21 project by Anna Huntsman and Jake Steinberg, along with more pictures and contributed reporting by Ellen O’Brien.

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Lali Mitchell‘s first home in Harmony Grove, California, where she had lived since moving to the area in 1976, was destroyed in the 2014 Cocos Fire. She said the fire destroyed tens of thousands of dollars worth of art, as well as family mementos, such as her father’s typewriter. “She was her own beautiful thing,” Mitchell said of her burned house. (Kailey Broussard/News21)
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Lali Mitchell lives along Country Club Road, a winding, dead-end street in Harmony Grove, California. In the 2014 Cocos Fire, traffic snarled as residents fled their homes. Mitchell said the road would not support increased traffic from new residents. “There’s no way you could be safe here,” she warned. (Kailey Broussard/News21)
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Lali Mitchell said the fire stopped at the 100-year-old mother oak tree on her property. She says there’s “something mystical” about the fire’s quashed path. (Photo by Kailey Broussard / News21)
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Flowers are just starting to return five years after Lali Mitchell’s house burned down. (Photo by Kailey Broussard / News21)
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Lali Mitchell lives with her 1-year-old dog, Sita. (Photo by Kailey Broussard / News21)
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In the studio attached to her house, Lali Mitchell houses art pieces that incorporate the community. Mitchell lost much of her art in the 2014 Cocos Fire, including a $10,000 stained glass art collection. (Photo by Kailey Broussard / News21)
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Lali Mitchell‘s first home in Harmony Grove, California, where she had lived since moving to the area in 1976, was destroyed in the 2014 Cocos Fire. She said the fire destroyed tens of thousands of dollars worth of art, as well as family mementos, such as her father’s typewriter. “She was her own beautiful thing,” Mitchell said of her burned house. (Kailey Broussard/News21)
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Lori Roach and Allyson Watson laughingly try to remember standard piano tunes. The piano in the Roach’s home was picked with Ashleigh Roach, Watson’s younger sister, in mind. Ashleigh, however, died before playing that piano. (Photo by Kailey Broussard / News21)
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Allyson Watson plays a tune with her mother in her parents’ house in Valley Center, California, July 26. (Photo by Kailey Broussard / News21)
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Lori Roach and Allyson Watson look over at a portrait of Ashleigh Roach, who died at 16 in the 2003 fires outside her parents’ home in Valley Center. Ashleigh loved Irish step dance. (Photo by Kailey Broussard / News21)
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A sign in front of a proposed development, Newland Sierra, warns of fire risk on June 24, 2019. The area is one of many in San Diego County where developments are planned, despite wildfire concerns and community outcry. (Kailey Broussard/News21)
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Van Collinsworth, a longtime California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighter, maps the proposed layout of Fanita Ranch, a development approved in Santee, California. The development has gone back and forth between planning and legal battles for around a decade. Initially approved in 2007, but its environmental impact reports were found inadequate in 2013. (Kailey Broussard/News21)

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Harmony Grove Drive winds through the community it’s named after. The road is the main road in and out of Elfin Forest Harmony Grove. Proposed developments would add over 700 homes along the areas’ escape route. (Kailey Broussard/News21)
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Angelique Hartman (left) and her family, Lily, Cole and Gus Hartman, moved to Elfin Forest from Vermont in 2013 with the dream of owning their own land. Around a year later, their garage burned down in the Cocos fire. “To be honest with you, I really didn’t think that the fire could possibly consume so much of the neighborhood,” Angelique Hartman said. “It really didn’t seem believable.” (Kailey Broussard/News21)
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Cole admires the skin of a snake he killed with a shovel in his parents’ yard. (Kailey Broussard)
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Cole looks away as he prepares one of his arrows. His family’s shed and patio area doubles as his shooting range and practice hockey rink. (Kailey Broussard)

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