Mission Viejo : Buck Brigade of Books Helps Restore Library

Orange County Fire Captains Phil Wojcik and Larry Webb were wrapping up a routine fire inspection at a Mission Viejo bookstore recently when they spotted them--92 boxes of brand new books stacked high in a cramped storage room.

“My first thought was, ‘Hey, this might be a fire hazard,’ ” Wojcik recalled. “But then the manager told us they were reducing inventory and that the books were on their way out.”

On their way out? “As in, headed for the trash bin,” the manager said.

Later that day, Webb heard on the news that an arsonist’s fire had gutted the San Diego County library in Fallbrook, causing $1 million in damages and destroying 30,000 books. A few phone calls later, and the firefighter had made the match-up.


“It seemed like an appropriate thing to do--work out the donation of all these new books to a library that’s having to start from scratch,” Webb said. “This won’t fill all their needs, but it’s a start.”

On Monday, Webb and Wojcik journeyed from Station 9 in Mission Viejo to join fellow firefighters from Fallbrook in a bucket brigade of sorts outside a temporary storage annex of the library. Instead of passing buckets of water and battling flames, the firefighters and a dozen other volunteers teamed up to hand box after box of books down the assembly line.

In addition to the more than 3,000 assorted volumes--valued at $14,720--donated by the Mission Viejo Mall’s Waldenbooks outlet, a ton and a half of used books arrived Monday courtesy of the Salvation Army in San Diego.

Besides the more than 30,000 books, numerous irreplaceable historical mementos--including a microfilm of local settlers--were destroyed in the April 1 fire, the largest and costliest in recent Fallbrook history.

Darryl Ray Mick, 18, was arrested on the street near the scene of the pre-dawn fire shortly after it broke out. Fire investigators said the young Fallbrook man was apparently despondent over his recent firing from a job at a north San Diego County convalescent home.

Mick has pleaded innocent to charges that he set the library fire and two dumpster fires.