Tim Morales and his wife, Pam, bought more than 250 acres in the hills above Glendora, the site of a former Girl Scouts summer camp. They owned it for more than 40 years.
They developed two private gated communities on the land, built a complex of homes complete with a swimming pool and horses and raised their children and grandchildren there. They even gave the city 60 acres for parks and open space.
A few months ago, deciding that it was too big for them to handle, they decided to move to Huntington Beach and sold the property. But when Morales heard from a friend Thursday morning the fire was within striking distance of his former home, he jumped in his car and raced up the freeway to Glendora.
On the way, the smoke over LAX was a murky, thick brown. By the time he arrived after 9 a.m., the flames had already burned up to the backyard fence of what had once been his daughter's house. He breathed a sigh of relief that everything else seemed intact.
But later in the afternoon, stubborn hot spots remained.
"It's 42 years of my life I spent here" he said, staring as flames burned at the bases of a towering grove of palm trees 100 yards away.
Helicopters dropped load after load of water over the trees, sending their trunks swinging like pendulums and and smoldering palm fronds floating to the ground. Loud, popping noises could be heard as the fire continued to burn, some of the flames reaching 30 feet in the air, but the air tankers quickly got the spot fire under control.
"There's a lot of sentimental memories here," Morales said.
He was always fascinated by the history of the property. Before it was a Girl Scout camp, he says it belonged to a Judge Silent, a Superior Court judge for Los Angeles in the 1800s. He aimed to build a castle in the manner of Hearst castle and had fountains, ponds and a lake to enjoy.
He also built a jail of sorts on the property and was known to sentence convicts to hard labor on the land, Morales said. The "jail" sits intact beside the pool today. The land was later granted to the Girl Scouts, Morales said, which built a summer camp complete with mess halls, a swimming pool and plenty of wilderness to explore. He said he's sad to think of all the history and memories that could have burned up in the fire.
"It just makes me sick," he said.
Recently, he said, the developer who bought the land from his family cleared out more than 100 trees in the canyon just east of his former homes. Some neighbors at the time were upset by the move. Today, he says, he's heard nothing but thanks for clearing the potentially explosive trees away.
"If it had hit that canyon a few weeks ago, it would've just blown up" he said.
He felt assured by the firefighters' quick response and said he was grateful for their help. Even though they had moved away, Morales said, he would have felt heartsick if he hadn't come to see what was happening. He knows all the neighbors. When the family moved, they threw them a going-away party.
"This is still your home," said Miyako Nakano, a longtime resident on Palm Drive who has known him for years and whose husband owns the Donut Man in Glendora.
"It still feels like it," he said.