Former Cape couple's California home saved

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pat Heckert, who taught for 30 years in schools in Cape Girardeau, Scott City and Delta, moved to Southern California with her husband in 2002. It was a different world over on the West Coast, a vibrant place where the weather is a beautiful 72 degrees almost every day.

Now, days into an epic human-vs.-nature battle against raging wildfires, Heckert describes the burned areas as a black moonscape: The vegetation is charred, thick smoke sends schoolchildren home early, and fear drives people constantly to their cell phones to check the latest gossip and word-of-mouth reports about who has lost homes. It's a world where instant vagabonds huddle on the beach or in stadiums with blank looks, beloved pets, few possessions.

Heckert and her husband, Bill -- former superintendent at Scott City schools -- are both healthy and safe. A fire Monday had jumped the interstate and put their condo in jeopardy. It was saved, however, by a group of firefighters attacking flames from the ground and the sky.

"They are totally unbelievable," Pat Heckert said of the firefighters.

Pat Heckert said her husband managed to get back to the condo and verify that the building is intact. However, he said it appeared as if the flames made it to the bedroom windows. She had 30 minutes to grab items from her home, mostly pictures and clothing. Police came into the parking lot with sirens and lights, demanding that everyone evacuate immediately.

Heckert said the skies were clearing somewhat, but "it looks like a war zone in places."

-- Bob Miller

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