PORTER RANCH, Calif. — In the wee hours of the morning of Oct. 9, Surjit Bawa pulled his car out of his driveway as the Saddleridge Fire grew alarmingly close to his Northridge home. He and his family rushed to seek refuge in his brother’s house barely three miles down the road. As soon as he dropped his family off, he headed back with his son to pull their other car out of the driveway and into safety. As he approached his house, however, his heart sank at the sight of the burning inferno.
“In a matter of minutes our home of 26 years got reduced to a few charbroiled walls and mangled wires. The only thing we were able to take with us were our passports,” Bawa told India-West.
As he continued to talk about the chain of events, he mentioned over and over again that this house was where his three children were raised, that it was where the extended family got together for special occasions, where many parties were held, and that those memories will never be erased.
“Our house also served as my office for the food businesses I run,” Bawa said, adding: “One of them being India Sweets and Spices as well and a few Subway franchises.”
For the Indian Americans and other South Asians who live in the San Fernando Valley, Bawa-owned India Sweets and Spices is the ‘go to’ for all things Indian: groceries, festival items, fresh mithai and delicious food. Once word got out that Bawa’s house was lost, the community quickly rallied around him and his family.
In his despair, he recounted to India-West: “We were lucky that my wife noticed the fires moving towards our backyard at the right time. I am upset about the delayed 911 response time even though I repeatedly called them 5 times. If they had come immediately the house could have been saved.”
Bawa went on to say: “We are Indians and we are a strong people and I know that I will rebuild what was lost. My family is safe and that is most important.” This sentiment was further driven home by a star-shaped pennant hanging on the yellow tag that read, “Hope,” in front of the mangled, charred mess on Sheffield Lane in Northridge.
Close to 100,000 residents were evacuated from Porter Ranch, Granada Hills, Northridge and Sylmar. Schools and malls were closed. All roads in the city of Porter Ranch were closed to make accessibility easy for fire fighters.
For the Sneh and Dinanath Sharma family in Santa Clarita, the freeway closures kept them home-bound. For the Kiran and Vinod Rai family, the intense heat and smoke made them seek refuge in a nearby hotel. “We were worried for our toddler grandson; the last few days have been quite unnerving,” they told India-West.
For a few days life came to a standstill and it seemed like the flames would have the upper hand. However, with the decreasing winds and the painstaking efforts of the fire fighters, all evacuees have now returned to their homes.
But they recalled the harrowing events to India-West.
When the cops knocked on the door of their Porter Ranch home at 2 a.m. on Oct. 10, it was to tell the Satyarthi family to evacuate. Bharti Satyarthi, who had spent the last two weeks preparing for her daughter Rashmika’s bridal shower to be held on the afternoon of Oct. 12, grabbed passports and photo albums, and realized that a strange instinct made her grab Rashmika’s wedding lehenga.
Soon, Bharti, her husband and son drove to a friend’s house expecting to return to their home in a few hours. The few hours stretched out to over three days and Bharti wondered what was to become of the bridal shower? Family members were flying in for the event. Included in the family arrivals were of course the bride and her fiancé Robert.
As the day went by, there was no word of a return to their home and she began thinking of re-scheduling the bridal shower. However, Bharti’s friends, all part of the resilient Indian American community, rallied together and the venue for the bridal shower was changed to a friend’s house. Everyone from the family and many friends set up the bridal shower complete with decorations, food and games.
Rashmika, the bride-to-be, told India-West: “Yes, it was nerve racking to not have a home to go to upon getting into town, but we were just glad to be together. See how things have worked out…my bridal shower will always be remembered!”