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Three years later, rebuilds grind on

Residents of Stoneyvale Road tell of county roadblocks as they recover.

August 05, 2012|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • John Benriter talks about his carpenter's shop that stood behind his home on Stoneyvale Road in the Vogel Flats area of Big Tujunga Canyon.
John Benriter talks about his carpenter's shop… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

The matching 7,500-gallon water tanks resemble silos, looming conspicuously over Stoneyvale Road in this once-heavily-wooded enclave in Big Tujunga Canyon.

Their presence signals traction in a rebuilding process that began shortly after the Station fire ripped through Angeles National Forest three years ago, destroying more than 80 homes and killing two firefighters.

But for Stoneyvale “permittees” who own cabins on national forest land — some of them quip about renaming the road “Tin Can Alley” — the water tanks represent a saga of miscommunication and mismatched expectations with Los Angeles County officials that they say have slowed an already painful recovery.

“The Fire Department has changed what they want our water tanks to be three different times,” said Christopher Gould, who with his grandfather has managed to erect the only post-fire house in the neighborhood. “It is just so ridiculous. We stopped asking, at a point.”

Stoneyvale is remote yet accessible, situated just off Big Tujunga Canyon Road eight miles deep into Angeles National Forest. Before the fire, there were roughly two dozen rustic homes, many dating back to the 1930s and '40s.

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“We went home to a place that most people would vacation to go to,” said Bert Voorhees, an attorney who lost his home during the Station fire.

Those same features are what have complicated the rebuilding process, said officials in Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich's office. Many of the destroyed Stoneyvale homes predated current building and safety codes. And the off-the-radar locale meant that there wasn't vigorous code enforcement of newer construction.

At some spots, the road ran over several feet of private property, and in other spots private property demarcations fell on the county road.

In short, what was on the books at the Los Angeles County assessor's office wasn't necessarily what was on the ground in Stoneyvale at the time of the fire.

After the blaze, county officials set about surveying the neighborhood — a job that was near the top of a long to-do list that included addressing the community's water system, septic tanks, flood risk, emergency vehicle access, setbacks and wall heights.

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