Friday, November 02, 2007

During the worst days of the recent Southern California fires...

...the Calitics community did a great job of providing news and constantly updated information, often from the front lines of the wildfires. As the immediate emergency has settled into recovery, there have been diaries about the need to properly fund public fire safety infrastructure to the ugly politics of disaster. All very well done. Thankfully, we can sit in our homes and have the luxury of thinking about the fires, and talking about the fires, and seeing the fires in the abstract, without having it immediately and directly impact our own lives. It becomes harder to think of it in the abstract once you hear the stories of people who were personally affected. Just like anything else in the news or the political arena, there are people behind the stories.

On Sunday October 21, soon after the Harris Ranch fire started in eastern San Diego County near Potrero, long-time east county residents Thomas and Dianne Varshock, and their 15 year old son Richard, prepared to evacuate their Tecate ranch. They loaded one vehicle with their belongings and their dogs, and Dianne drove west, away from the approaching firestorm. Tom and Richard stayed behind loading the other car, and hosing down their property in an effort to control the burn, but when Tom called for Richard to come to the car, there was no reply. As he was looking for his son, four firefighters arrived and the five of them began looking for Richard. He was soon found by one of the firefighters, but he was unconscious. Immediately, as they used their radio to call for help, a wall of superheated gases and flames blew over the ridge and onto the Varshock ranch, where it overtook them all. Amazingly, they were all rescued by helicopter, except for Tom who had become separated from the rest and perished in the flames. The firefighters and Richard were all critically injured, with severe burns to large percentages of their bodies and injury from smoke inhalation.

The Varshocks have suffered a tragic loss, and have a long and difficult road ahead. Richard has already had seven hours of surgery, and will have many years of difficult medical treatment in his future. Their health insurance is not expected to cover the costs of his care. They've lost their home, their business which was on the ranch, and most of their belongings, and there was no fire insurance since the 2003 Cedar Fires. Dianne will be unable to work for the foreseeable future while she cares for her son and her self. They had recently invested a significant amount of their savings into the ranch, and are now in an financially difficult position as that money will not be recouped through insurance. The family is in dire straits.

Tom was a high school wrestling coach and respected community member, and the Varshocks have many friends in Potrero and Tecate. I have heard nothing but heartfelt words for Tom, Dianne and Richard.

Gordon Hammers, chairman of the Potrero Community Planning Group and a close friend of Thomas Varshock, said father and son “were defending their home and trying to save it. The fire was moving so fast, they just got overwhelmed.”

“He was a sterling character,” Hammers said of Varshock.

Jan Hedlun, a former business partner of Varshock's, described him as an extremely intelligent geologist and expert in evaluating construction defects. “He was an entirely generous person with a family spirit” who donated his time to build a local library, she said.

Richard is a high school wrestler, and Tom was a coach, so the local wrestling community has chipped in and rented an apartment near the hospital for Dianne. Others in the community are pitching in to help. There are several ways you can help too.

Tax deductible donations for Richard's healthcare expenses can be made to:
Varshock Family Foundation
Post Office Box 3484
San Diego, CA 92163
Tax ID: 26-1307576

Non-Tax deductible gifts that may be used for living and personal expenses can be sent to:
Dianne Varshock
San Diego County Credit Union
312 West Main Street
El Cajon, CA 92020-3320

Burn Institute Fund
(credit cards accepted)
The Varshock Fund is designed to help Richard's family cover basic needs and assist with rehabilitation and specialized care. Call Diane Sparacino at the Burn Institute at 858-541-2277 or donate online at the Burn Institute or by mail to:

The Varshock Fund
A UCSD Burn Institute
8825 Aero Drive #200
San Diego, CA 92123-2269

My personal beliefs and my political beliefs come from the same place. I believe one of our primary duties on this earth to care for one another, cooperatively and as a community. Corny? Maybe, but I truly mean it. When a disaster of this magnitude occurs it's just so BIG that personal stories and struggles get lost or forgotten, and I don't like to see that happen. Just so it's clear, I don't know the family, but they're friends of friends and this is a devastating tragedy for many people in the Varshock's community, and in their circle of family and friends. From one community to another, I want to help.

Cross posted at Calitics



Post a Comment

<< Home