Family Rebuilds in Wake of Devastating Wildfire : Renewal: The Rasnows, who lost their home in the Green Meadow blaze, are overcoming obstacles to erect new home and put lives back in order.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Patches of green grass and shrubs have recently appeared on the blackened hillsides that surround Harman Rasnow's property near Thousand Oaks. Spring has arrived.

And for Rasnow, 73, who lost his home in the Green Meadow wildfire last year, that's enough to keep him going.

"It shows that everything else is moving along, and why shouldn't I?" he said. "We're part of nature. And so we'll ride along with it."

Rasnow and his family were the first victims of the wildfires that swept through Southern California in October. Their home of 23 years and nearly all of their personal belongings were lost in the blaze.

Five months later, Rasnow and his family are just beginning to get their lives back in order.

Only last week, Rasnow and his wife, Eleanor, reached a settlement with their insurance company and met with an architect to discuss floor plans for their new home.

"It's been a very slow process," said Rasnow, who along with his wife has been living since the fire at the condominium they own in Ventura. The couple's son, Brian, 32, and daughter, Tina, 35, also have homes on the ranch near Thousand Oaks, but theirs were spared.

The family is still upset with the county Fire Department, which they believe could have saved Rasnow's house. But Rasnow said he doesn't have the time or energy to look back anymore.

"I try not to let emotions wear me down," he said. "I don't dwell on the past unless there's something I can learn from it."

Next time, Rasnow said he will be prepared to fight the fire himself. "I will do whatever I have to to provide my own protection," he said.

For the most part, Rasnow said he has learned to ride out the frustrations that come with rebuilding his life. He knows now, he said, that things could always be worse.

On a recent vacation to the Bahamas, Rasnow and his wife stopped at a convenience store to buy a newspaper and were robbed at gunpoint.

Then, after returning home last Sunday, Rasnow said the couple were in their condominium in Ventura "wondering what else could go wrong when the ground started to shake." A 5.3-magnitude aftershock knocked him to the floor.

"You have to laugh about it," he said. "What else can you do?" Besides, he said, "we're still here and in good health and good spirits."

In addition to losing his home, Rasnow said last year's fire also had a major impact on his post-retirement livelihood. His 200-acre hilltop ranch is home to a major communication network that had included 30 radio, television and cellular telephone antennae. Of those, however, six were destroyed in the fire.

While some media companies have replaced their equipment, others have chosen to scale back their operations, costing Rasnow a few thousand dollars a month in lost revenue.

"We lost a few tenants," he said, noting that he has already begun talking to others interested in renting space on his property. "These are the kinds of things that we've had to deal with. It's a setback, but we'll survive."

Rasnow said he will spend the next few weeks finishing up plans for his new home, which he hopes will duplicate the one he designed and had custom built 23 years ago.

But rebuilding won't be easy. Rasnow's former home was built in sections at a mobile home factory in Oxnard and assembled on his ranch. The unusual 5,000-square-foot structure was built around a courtyard with a swimming pool in the middle. A glass ceiling overhead collected solar energy used to heat the pool and the house.

"It was a very unusual house," Rasnow said. "One of a kind."

Because the house was considered a mobile home, Rasnow didn't need a building permit. Everything was pre-approved by the state. The only permit he needed from the county was to hook up his utilities.

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The problem Rasnow faces now is finding a suitable company to build his new home. The factory that constructed the old one went out of business several years ago.

"Most factories won't do it at all," he said.

Also, Rasnow will have to decide whether he wants to have the home built in sections, complete with appliances, as well as heating and air-conditioning equipment, or simply purchase prefabricated walls that would allow him to customize the interior.

The choice will be a difficult one because in his original home Rasnow was free to install his own appliances. State law now requires that each section or mobile home unit be completely built when it leaves the factory, greatly limiting the buyer's say in its design.

"So if we don't like something, then we have to take it out" and replace it, adding to the expense, he said.

If he chooses to go with the prefabricated walls, Rasnow will be forced to get a building permit from the county; something he had been hoping to avoid.

"I dread that," he said. "That's why the manufactured home was appealing to me in the first place. I didn't want to fight the bureaucrats."

Complicating matters further, Rasnow is involved in a legal squabble with the county over whether his property, which is actually on unincorporated county land, should have to abide by the development guidelines of the city of Thousand Oaks. A Superior Court hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 18.

"It's questionable whether we're going to prevail," said Rasnow, who is already contemplating an appeal. "They want to deprive me of all value of this property."

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Whatever happens, Rasnow said he will push on with his plans to rebuild his home.

"If I were weak and shaky and emotional I wouldn't have survived this," Rasnow said. "Old is creeping up on me. I don't have quite the fight and spirit I used to have. But there's enough left to get through this."

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