San Bruno turning a corner on day 8


"I appreciate life a lot more than I did one week ago," said Robert Sherlock, for whom the difference between minor damage and devastation was roughly half a block. "My wife was upstairs, looking through the kids' old stuff a few minutes ago. Keepsakes, you know? They would have been gone."

It has been long enough since the fire, now, that neighborhood residents can begin to collect their thoughts, and make sense of them. At 1770 Earl Drive, Clarence Press stood in the open garage of the house he has lived in since 1968.

His windows have melted. His paint has bubbled. "But we're still here," said Clarence, which is better than he expected when houses down the street exploded and he fled, barefoot, with the only the family Shih tzu dogs, Nickey and Tootsie.

In that moment, he never expected to see the house again. Instead, the garage still needs cleaning and family pictures still hang on the wall. A simple question about how he is doing leads to stream-of-consciousness about fate, fortune and the influence of fire.

"I'm still getting my head around it," said Clarence.

But for the complete role reversal, spend a few minutes with Bob McNichols, who lives in the first house to survive on Claremont Drive. His fence is charred, his car has melted, but he glances next door at the shell of a house owned by the Pellegrini family and looks like a man who won the lottery.

"Everybody had been great," he says of police, fire, and county officials. And, McNichols has some extra insight into that. Until retirement ten years ago, he served Hillsborough as its police chief.

"Yes, this is the other side," he said. "It's different. I'm more concerned for my neighbors, now, than myself. We need to be there for them. We need to listen."

As McNichols spoke, his son, Rob walked past. He's a fireman for Central County.

For him, tragedy isn't just close to home. It's the house he grew up in. "I'm still a little too emotional to talk about this," said Rob. "Maybe in a couple of weeks it will be better."

If the past one is any indication, maybe it will.

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