Families reflect, rebuild one year after San Bruno

September 9, 2011 5:59:20 PM PDT
It's been one year since the explosion and fire in San Bruno. Some residents lost their homes. Others were more fortunate. But for both, life after the fire has been an emotional roller coaster.

Phil Piserchio is a church music minister. He believes in miracles.

"I don't know if there's some formula that says there's a level one, level two or level three miracles," Piserchio said.

Piserchio and his family may have experienced one on Sept 9, 2010. They escaped from their home with just the clothes on their back.

"We could feel the heat through our house; I mean, we could feel, just, heat coming through the walls," Piserchio said that night.

Piserchio's home was right in the path of the giant fire ball. The next morning, he looked at his street from the other side of the canyon, the flames stopped just before his house. There used to be homes going up the hillside but today his view is a barren field.

Just across his balcony is the frame of Tina Pelligrini's brand new home.

Fate was not as kind to the Pelligrinis. The fire destroyed the house she and her husband lived in for decades.

"He just saw the fireball come right up to the house, to the window, go over the house and recede and he goes, 'The windows are starting to crack; the vinyl is melting, we got to get out of here,'" Pelligrini said.

The Pelligrinis are now building their dream house.

"Our old house was three bedrooms, three baths, a little over 1,400 square feet, which we even added on to that 20 years ago," Pelligrini said. "And this one here is five bedrooms, three and a half baths."

Rebuilding helps occupy her time, but it doesn't erase what happened last year.

"It's taken me a very long time to get to where I am right now and I'm still not me," Pelligrini said. "We went to the movies the other night and there was a fire scene and I had to close my eyes and say, 'OK, it's just a movie, it's a movie, it's a movie.'"

Piserchio's home was spared but adjustment to life after the fire has also been difficult. They saw what happened to their neighbor's 4-year-old child.

"They brought him back and he couldn't stop crying and he wouldn't be left by himself in the room; that's why I wanted to be extra careful with my kids," Piserchio said.

Weeks after the fire, 6-year-old Jonah Piserchio drew this picture of himself with a sad face with a caption saying, "This is what I looked like in September." So the Piserchios have tried slowly to acclimate their two children.

"We tried to focus on the positive things," Piserchio said. "'Hey, look at these firefighters, they saved our house. Isn't that great? They're going to start rebuilding. Look at that cool tractor!'"

Pelligrini is angry at PG&E. She is suing them.

"When you sit back and have this happen and everything has been taken from you; you didn't lose it, lose means you have some control," Pelligrini said.

"It really doesn't matter what you do in life; you have to decide whether to view it as half full or half empty," Piserchio said.


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