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Former resident helps wildfire relief effort

Friday, October 26, 2007


Times Staff Reporter

Whether living in Indiana or California, residents will run into natural disasters.

Joe Chesnut left Brazil for California in 1977 when he entered the Air Force.

Chesnut, who now lives in the Scripps Ranch area of San Diego, spent 24 years on the California Highway Patrol dealing with emergencies from wildfires to riots.

For the first time, though, Chesnut was evacuated from his own home because of the fires burning across southern California.

He had been warned of possible evacuation during fires in 1993 and 2003, but never had to leave his home.

Chesnut and neighbors packed up personal belongings and drove to a grocery store parking lot across the freeway from their community where they could see the fire approaching the condominiums.

The winds had shifted southwest, pushing the flames closer to the neighborhood.

"I knew at that point that I've lost everything," Chesnut said.

He said if he was going to lose everything, he rather watch than be left not knowing.

Chesnut said, as the flames approached, the wind shifted due west, and his community was unharmed.

Many others in the San Diego area were not as fortunate.

Chesnut volunteered at Qualcomm Stadium Wednesday where evacuees were being held after he could safely return to his home.

He said that 15,000 people were at the stadium, and evacuees gathered in neighborhood groups and worked with each other.

He swept, emptied trash cans and helped pass out blankets and bottled water.

"If someone needs you to push a broom, you push a broom," he said.

This is not the first time that Chesnut has helped those who have lost everything in wildfires.

During the wildfires of 2003, six of his fellow Highway Patrol officers lost their homes.

Chesnut said the department rallied around the officers and provided food, clothing and shelter until insurance monies came through.

He also said that he's seeing similar things now in San Diego, "people pull(ing) together."

Chesnut retired from the Highway Patrol in July, and is working on moving back to Indiana to be with family in the near future.

He is preparing to deal with tornado season instead of wildfires and earthquakes.

"You can never go anywhere where you're not going to run into natural disasters," Chesnut said. "You just have to move on."

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Great to hear about former residents doing good !! Keep it up.. Great article

-- Posted by Sidney on Sun, Oct 28, 2007, at 8:39 PM

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