Some of Los Angeles County Fire Capt. David Yonan's happiest memories are of the two years he spent living with his then-wife at the Oakridge Mobile Home Park.
So when he received a tearful call from one of his former neighbors, desperate to know if his home was still standing Saturday morning, it didn't matter that Yonan's team had already been out all night putting out fires in Sylmar. He told his driver to head over there.
What they saw when they reached the park about 5:30 a.m. shocked even Yonan, a 30-year veteran from Fire Station 12 in Altadena.
With most of the park consumed by flames, city fire and police officers had made the difficult decision to pull out after completing a dramatic rescue of its residents a few hours earlier. Officials feared crews would be overwhelmed by the fast-moving fire. All that appeared to be left of the park's 608 homes was a nightmarish vista of burning rubble and twisted metal.
"It was just horrendous," Yonan said. But as the smoke cleared slightly, he and his driver realized some homes had survived.
"Even though the fire was ferociously burning on all four flanks, I thought if we could get the resources in, we could make a stand," Yonan said.
The airwaves were jammed with radio talk, and Yonan had been unable to reach his supervisor earlier. This time, however, he managed to get through.
Yonan, 49, was expecting a reprimand for taking off on his own. Instead, the supervisor immediately dispatched two strike teams from the county and city fire departments, each made up of about 15 to 20 firefighters in four or five engines. At least one other strike team later joined the fight.
There was virtually no water pressure left in the park's fire hydrants, so for the next four hours, tankers ferried water into the park to replenish the engines.
"We would be trying to make a stand as the fire was pushing us from house to house," Yonan said. "Thank God, one of these water [trucks] would turn up with just enough water to keep us going."
Wind gusts of up to 70 mph nearly knocked them off their feet.
"You'd be standing there with a hose, and it was like a big football player had just knocked into you," he said.
Yonan ran from one group of firefighters to the next, urging them on like a cheerleader.
"These guys would not give up," Yonan said. "It was amazing."
When the firefighters finally gained the upper hand about 9:30 a.m. and stopped to look around them, they realized they had saved 131 homes.
As the trucks rolled away, Yonan called his ex-wife, Heidi Baynandor Yonan, to say that her home was among them. She broke down in tears, he said.
She was not the only grateful resident. Jody Miller's entire street was spared.
"You tell him God bless him and thank you very much," said Miller, 57, when she heard the account. "We don't know how they kept it from burning, but they did."
Yonan says he is proud of his team and relieved that they could help.
"We always put the fires out at the homes of people we don't know. This time, I knew the people," Yonan said. "The park is like one big family there, and it was so beautiful."
Zavis is a Times staff writer.