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5 years after Cocos Fire, community in north San Diego County is slow to rebuild

Posted at 9:45 AM, May 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-14 12:45:01-04

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) - Five years after the destructive Cocos Fire in north San Diego County, the community hardest hit has yet to rebuild.

Just west of Escondido in Harmony Grove is a scene of beauty and frustration.

"There is sadness here. I just want to be home and have my neighbors back," said resident Betty Page Anderson.

Anderson vividly remembers the shouts of firefighters that night.

"I hear, ‘Mandatory evacuation, everybody must leave!’" said Anderson.

When she and the other residents of the Harmony Grove Spiritualist Association left that night, there was a lot of smoke in the distance. By the next afternoon, the flames had consumed much of a community dating back more than century.

"We welcome all faiths ... We believe in the afterlife, and we believe we can communicate with those that have passed," said Anderson.

The faith of a community, including mediums and healers, would be tested. The church was reduced to ash, and 22 of 27 homes had burned, including Anderson’s two-bedroom home.

The trauma of that day would be slow to fade. Services were moved to a building that was spared, but much of the area remains frozen in time.

Five years later, not one home has been rebuilt.

"Very frustrating. Certainly, I didn't think it'd take five years," said Anderson.

Because many of these buildings dated back to the 1930s, San Diego County has required the community map be redrawn to account for modern codes, for things like septic tanks. The process has been a long one. Fire safety is another concern, as narrow streets must be widened.

Unlike many of her neighbors, Anderson did have insurance. She said she plans to rebuild.

"There will be a lot of joy when we have our community back, and I hope to see that soon," said Anderson.

Anderson said homeowners are hoping to begin rebuilding by the end of the year.