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Hunter’s Calif. Home Destroyed

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) received the bitter news late Monday afternoon that his home in Alpine, Calif., was completely burned to the ground by one of the massive fires sweeping through Southern California.

The eastern San Diego County fire, one of 10 blazes devastating the region, had already forced his family to evacuate and seek shelter with friends in nearby Imperial County.

A damage estimate on Hunter’s ranch-style home was not available.

“It took the house down, it took our little guest house down. … They said the one thing it missed was our little white station wagon, which we’ve been trying to get rid of for years,” said a surprisingly upbeat Hunter. “I bought it during the 1992 race, and it’s got 225,000 miles on it. We’ve been trying to give it away and nobody wants it — not even the fire.”

Hunter said he plans to rebuild his home despite the fire: “People of San Diego County have a lot of spirit, we’re very resilient … so we’ll all be out there working away to clean up after this fire and get going again.”

Hunter’s district office was still open as of Monday afternoon and “the staff there is coming and going as they need too, there’s people there to answer questions,” said Harald Stavenas, a Hunter staffer who is communications director for the House Armed Service Committee.

“It’s chaotic … things sound pretty bad,” Stavenas said.

Fires have already destroyed more than 150 homes in Duncan’s 52nd district. By early Monday evening the Los Angeles Times reported that more than 800 homes had been destroyed across Southern California.

Hunter, chairman of the Armed Services panel, has been kept in town debating the Iraqi supplemental funding bill, but Monday worked with Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for a different reason: He arranged for four Military Aerial Firefighting units and six CH-53 helicopters to be sent to the region to help the 8,000 firefighters.

“We’ve had great cooperation from the military,” Hunter said. “General Myers gave his home number to the firefighting requirements people in California and said, ‘If you want airplanes just call me.’”

By 4 p.m. Monday, President Bush had declared a large portion of Southern California in a state of emergency, paving the way for federal funding and Federal Emergency Management Agency support. It represents a bit of hope in a firefighting effort that has gone back and forth over the past few days.

For Rep. Jerry Lewis (R), who represents the 41st district, the fire fights in his hometown have gotten personal as well — his son Dan was evacuated from his home Monday and is now staying at the Congressman’s home in Redlands.

Lewis, who was in D.C. early last weekend for meetings concerning the supplemental funding, flew out of Washington on Sunday to be in his district and join his staffers who had been working in the field all weekend, spokesman Jim Specht said.

“He visited an evacuation center at San Bernardino International Airport and has been in the neighborhoods,” Specht said.

With most fires less than 20 percent contained and some not contained at all, it may take days to bring the blazes under control.

“Soot is everywhere, traffic is hell and the air is brown,” said a district aide to Rep. Brad Sherman (D), who represents the 27th district which, as of Monday, was being threatened by the 90,000-acre Ventura County fire. “Black smoke is now visible from every window of Congressman Sherman’s District office and sirens can be heard every minute or so.”

In Rep. Joe Baca’s 43rd district, which is based in San Bernardino, one fire was burning just 10 minutes from the Democratic Congressman’s district office Monday afternoon.

One Baca staffer had already been evacuated from his home, and calls were pouring in from constituents wanting information on issues from disaster control to insurance claims, said the Congressman’s press secretary, Laura O’Neill.

During the day Monday, Baca’s district staff was praying that wind wouldn’t pick up around Arrowhead, a dry wooded area not far from the office. A staffer described the area to O’Neill as “matches waiting to happen.”

The Cedar fire, covering some 140,000 acres outside San Diego, has already claimed eight lives and is the worst fire burning. The Cedar fire, the same blaze threatening Hunter’s district, is also turning Rep. Duke Cunningham’s (R) 50th district into a raging inferno and caused Rep. Susan Davis’ (D) 53rd district office to run at half staff due to roads being shut down.

Cunningham’s Escondido-based office remained closed Monday and four of the nine staffers had already been evacuated from their homes. While half of the district staff spent Monday helping loved ones evacuate, the other half visited local shelters to volunteer their efforts. Cunningham himself visited a shelter in Lake Side on Sunday morning before catching one of the only flights out of San Diego for Washington on Sunday afternoon, said Press Secretary Harmony Allen.

“It’s a rough time for Californians,” Hunter said. “But we’re optimistic people, and we’re going to continue to work and we’ll beat this fire and then we’re going to rebuild.”

Jessica L. Brady contributed to this report.

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