SAN DIEGO — Ann Marie Duffy and Joseph Rawlings Thompson -- plus their families, friends and, most important, their wedding planner -- were not going to let fire disrupt the most important day of their lives.
And so, the couple from Tampa, Fla., were married Saturday at the Wild Animal Park, with 125 guests in attendance and a few curious shoebill storks looking on.
The wedding was a clear sign that San Diego was back in business after a week of fire that destroyed about 1,385 homesin the county and shut down the Wild Animal Park for four days, the longest closure in its history.
A branch of the Witch Creek fire pushed through the San Pasqual Valley into the park, destroying a facility used for California's condor breeding program. A clapper rail and a Tibetan wild ass died, possibly of stress or smoke inhalation.
Like much of San Diego, the Wild Animal Park is used to occasional firestorms. In front of its ticket booth is a plaque to firefighters and others "whose gallant efforts saved the Wild Animal Park" during a 1993 wildfire.
Wedding planner Gayle Feallock had hurriedly found an alternative site for the nuptials -- the San Diego Zoo -- if the Wild Animal Park had remained closed. She also lined up an alternative caterer and an alternative hotel for out-of-town guests.
"My job was to worry, their job was to be happy," Feallock said.
The park reopened Friday morning.
"We had a Plan B but luckily we didn't have to use it," said Bob Duffy, the bride's father, who had been routed from his Poway home for three days. His home was spared while others in the neighborhood were destroyed.
On Saturday, the 25-year-old bride, resplendent in a satin gown with beaded bodice, and the 27-year-old groom, looking nervous, exchanged vows. Everything sailed smoothly, right down to the farewell toasts.
Duffy, a giraffe keeper at Busch Gardens, and Thompson, who works at an engineering consulting firm, promised to love and honor each other forever.
Meanwhile, roughly 30 miles away outside the San Diego Zoo, Mayor Jerry Sanders and tourism officials were telling the world that San Diego remains an ideal convention site and vacation destination.
The idea that tourists might be scared off by the fires is no small matter in a region where tourism is third after manufacturing and the military as an economic force. Thirty-two million visitors flock to the city each year, spending $8.2 billion and sustaining 120,000 jobs.
"From sparkling beaches to a thriving downtown, San Diego does not disappoint," said David Peckinpaugh, chief executive of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, at a morning news conference. "If you haven't visited recently, now's the time to come to San Diego."
To spread the welcoming word, state and San Diego tourism officials are planning an advertising blitz on television starting in November.
Although Duffy and Thompson may have been the city's happiest tourists Saturday, they weren't the only ones.
SeaWorld, briefly closed because of poor air quality, was open. Tourists were busily prowling Old Town, whose shops and restaurants are the city's top tourist attraction.
"We've been told this is the most authentic Mexican food in San Diego," said Jim Ahern, 52, of Des Moines. "No way we're coming home without having some."
Bill Medley, 74, and his wife, Eloise, 76, of Yucca Valley, Calif., were on their way to visit the Midway, the aircraft carrier turned museum. "Life goes on," Medley said. "If you hide in your house, then the fire really did win."
At the Wild Animal Park, where about a hundred weddings are conducted each year, the newlyweds took the fire's defeat as a sign that their marriage would be blessed.
"If you can beat fire, you can do anything," said the bride, who, when a stranger asked her name, answered proudly, "Ann Thompson."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times