Arsonist lucky he wasn’t caught in the act, resident says

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Entrance to downtown Trabuco Canyon:

On his sprawling ranch home next door to the Trabuco General store, Leonard Schwendeman, 89, sits in his living room and spews against whoever started the fire that threatened his home.

‘Of course [we’re] very aggravated,’ said Schwendeman, sitting on his couch in a blue shirt and red suspenders. ‘I think they should put [the arsonists] to work on a fire line for six months. Just carrying those water hoses is a hell of a lot of work.’ ....

The Schwendeman Ranch built in 1929 in the Trabuco Canyon is 6 to 9 acres of citrus trees and wood pilings, with a white fiberglass rooster perched in front. Schwendeman ignored an evacuation order to stay and protect his spread.

Schwendeman said the arsonist ‘would be a lot luckier than if he had been caught in the act. Around here if they caught a guy doing that they’d shoot him right on sight... I don’t have much sympathy for people who get involved in things like that. Years ago you used to solve your own problems around here. You’re not supposed to anymore, you’re supposed to call 911,’ Schwendeman said with a smile.


Schwendeman, who lives alone and does grading and construction work around the canyon despite his age, was the Trabuco fire chief beginning in the 1940s at the canyon fire station his father started. In the many decades he’s lived in Trabuco Canyon, he’s seen the entire mountain range above him burn, seen the ranch besieged with flames across the road, and has been in firestorms that have made a whole firetruck shake.

He plans to remain in the canyon, and adds that ‘you always consider evacuating, but you have so much that’s yours here. You could be more useful if you’re around.’

-- Hector Becerra