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What next for fire victims? Here’s where to go for answers

SYLMAR >> As they stood Monday in a neighborhood where many homes were damaged by the massive Creek fire, Art and Sylvia Valenzuela ticked off a list of people they had wished they never had to contact.
Insurance adjuster. Tax assessor. Bank officials.
“It’s all a waiting game right now,” Sylvia Valenzuela said as she opened the front door to the couple’s Santiago Estates home, where the smell of smoke clung to the walls, to allow the insurance adjuster to assess the damage.
All around the Santiago Estates mobile home park, some residents accepted their fates and moved forward in determination, while others examined their now fenced-off homes in despair.
With the Creek fire north of Sylmar, the Skirball fire in the Bel-Air area and the Rye fire in Santa Clarita nearing 100 percent containment after a week of destruction and disruption to the Los Angeles area, attention is turning to the aftermath.
Some help for residents like the Valenzuelas will be available the rest of this week at a local assistance center scheduled to open Tuesday at noon at the Lake View Terrace Recreation Center (11075 Foothill Blvd, Lake View Terrace). Hours are noon to 8 p.m. each day through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday..
Run by Los Angeles city and county, the center is described as a “one-stop shop” for residents and business operators seeking information on services and assistance from government agencies, utility companies and non-profit organizations in dealing with the effects of the Creek, Skirball and Rye fires.
“The real work starts when the fire’s put out, at least from the government’s perspective,” said Jarrod DeGonia, San Fernando Valley field deputy for L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
Art and Sylvia Valenzuela enter their home in the Santiago Estates to assess the damage caused by the Creek Fire in Sylmar, CA., Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Worries about what’s next are particularly acute for the owners of the more than structures reported destroyed by the past week’s Southern California blazes, including the Thomas fire (the largest) in Ventura County and the Lilac fire in San Diego County.
The work of rebuilding homes and lives begins for most residents and businesses with filing insurance claims. The State Farm insurance company said it had already received more than 1,000 homeowner claims as a result of the Southern California fires, mostly from the areas of the Thomas and Creek fires. The California Department of Insurance website has an extensive section for wildfire victims, including tips for claimants about documenting fire-related expenses, dealing with contractors, and deciding whether to use an attorney.
Paul Jones repairs a fence that was damaged by the Creek Fire in the Santiago Estates in Sylmar, CA.,, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
But making sure they receive the insurance benefits they’re owed is only one of the challenges facing some people after the fires.
Among other potential needs — with which L.A. officials say the assistance center in Lake View Terrace can help people —  are immediate housing, construction permitting, consumer and business affairs, tax relief, public works and sanitation, health and mental health issues, crisis counseling, veterans’ affairs and animal services.
Also, there’s the need to prepare for the rainy season and the danger of mud flow.
In the neighborhoods of Santiago Estates, Art and Sylvia Valenzuela said they were still stunned by what had happened to their home, which was red-tagged after flames burned a hole in the roof over the living room and kitchen, and water from the sprinkler system flooded the wooden floors.
As they walked down their street,  a neighbor wailed after catching her first glimpse of the remains of her home.
“Our whole life! Our whole life!” she screamed into the arms of another woman.
Tears formed in Sylvia Valenzuela’s eyes. She had done the same only a few days earlier, she said.
Almost 10 years ago, flames creeped close to their house when the nearby Sayre fire destroyed hundreds of homes in the the Oakridge Mobile Home Estates.
“We survived that fire,” Art Valenzuela said, as he remembered flames getting too close. “It came over the wash this time.”
Just down the road, Paul Jones nailed up a few boards to repair his gate. The fire singed the bushes along the front walls of his property, and that was the extent of the damage. But all that remained of the house next door was a charred shell.
Had his own home been destroyed, Jones said, he would have packed his bags and headed back to his native England. He had been through enough bad luck in the United States, he said, including financial and property losses in the recession.
“I feel bad for everybody, else,” he said. “But I’m a survivor. I could cry you a river.”
Others will try to rebuild. Helping them by streamlining the construction permitting process is the top objective of Barger, the county supervisor whose district includes the areas of the Creek and Rye fires, said DeGonia, the field deputy. (Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s district covers the Skirball fire area.)
“The county permitting process for some can take a long time,” DeGonia said. “For these [fire] victims who want to rebuild and stay in their communities, we want to make sure it’s efficient. These are people wanting to rebuild their homes. These are not developers.”
DeGonia said the L.A. County Assessor’s Office will consider reassessing property values and reducing or eliminating property taxes for owners of first-damaged properties.
Local officials also urge residents to call the 211 disaster hotline to report damage and get help.
Source: Oc Register

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