THE CALIFORNIA FIRES: EVACUEES; Converging On a Stadium ForShelter




SAN DIEGO, Oct. 27, 2003


By late Monday morning, Qualcomm Stadium here had become a refugeecenter for 3,000 people fleeing the firestorms of SouthernCalifornia.


The thick, choking smoke blowing down from the nearby communitiesof Tierrasanta and Murphy Canyon turned the sun into a hazy, goldenorb. With a soot-smudged face, 3-year-old Evan Jones stared straightinto it. ''Mama,'' he cried, ''the sun. Fire now!''


Evan's mother, Kristine Lannes, said: ''He's been absolutelyterrified of it ever since we left and saw the fire raining down onus. He thinks the sun will bring fire.''


A resident of Navy housing in Murphy Canyon, Ms. Lannes satdejected at the open tailgate of her station wagon alongside her10-year-old son, Gabriel; her cocker spaniel, Rusty; two cockatiels;and a volunteer counselor, Carol Angell.


Ms. Lannes said she did not know whether her home had been spared.''Yesterday I woke up and it looked funny outside, an orangesunrise,'' she said. ''I walked outside and felt I couldn't breathe.I thought frankly that something must be wrong with me or mymedication. Then my son pointed at the ground and said, 'Mommy, it'sChristmas!' Because it was snowing ash.''


Ms. Lannes said a neighbor told her of the fire. ''But she said,'Don't panic, don't worry about it,' '' Ms. Lannes said. ''Two hoursgoes by and I walk outside again. Every single house on our block waspanicking.''


Ms. Lannes said that many of her neighbors were military childrenand wives whose husbands, like hers, were on deployment. ''Peoplewere just standing out on the street looking up at the sky andcrying,'' she said. ''It was horrible.''


Ms. Angell, the counselor, offered Ms. Lannes what comfort shecould. ''I felt helpless at home,'' Ms. Angell said. ''I knew I hadcounseling skills and people needed help. I had to be here.''


Ms. Angell said the outpouring of support was unlike anything shehad seen in San Diego. ''I was just talking with a family whose houseburned down in Alpine -- they watched it on television. Anotherfamily, they came right up and adopted them.''


A row of cars over, Jon Daschle of Tierrasanta had set up amakeshift compound for his wife, Patte, and three children under theawning of a small RV. Mr. Daschle reported that he was certain hishome was still standing. ''We keep calling our answering machine,''he said. ''As long as it answers, we know we're O.K.''


This was the first time the Daschles had had to evacuate theircanyon neighborhood in the 17 years they have lived there. Mr.Daschle said that his home had a shake roof and that he had rigged upa sprinkler on top to run continuously. ''It should be going rightnow unless the fire department shut it off,'' he said.


The San Diego Chargers were scheduled to play the Miami Dolphinsat Qualcomm on Monday night, but the football game was moved toTempe, Ariz., freeing the stadium for the 3,000 refugees and nearlyas many volunteers.


Along the main gate of the stadium, so many volunteers hadgathered to hand out food, clothing and even pet food that some, likeRoberta Cruz, 21, and Andrew Quadri, 22, students at the Universityof California at San Diego, found that their physical labor was notneeded. Instead, creating signs that read ''Hugs Here,'' they offeredsomething a little more intangible.


Mr. Quadri said business was fairly brisk. ''I just gave a hug toa person who lost it all,'' he said. ''People are looking for someoneto reach out to them. Sometimes, you just need something like this.Someone to say, 'Hey, it's O.K.' ''


Images: Photos: A volunteer, Christina Padilla, gave outrespirator filters yesterday at Qualcomm Stadium, where water andfood were on hand for evacuees. (Photographs by Dave Gatley for TheNew York Times)