West Cajon Valley couple return to find home safe from Blue Cut fire

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 20, 2016 issue of The Sun. View clip online.

John “Gio” Muensterman said Saturday afternoon he “was a lucky boy.”

“I kissed the ground and said ‘Thank you, Lord,’” the West Cajon Valley resident said.

He and his wife Vivian had returned moments before, about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, to their home of 35 years on Monte Vista Road to find their home, garage, chicken coops and dog house all still standing, though the Blue Cut fire had come right up to their property.

Before evacuating about 9 p.m. Tuesday, John said it was Vivian’s idea to foam their trees in addition to spraying their home and other structures with gel. They did it themselves, using a standard garden hose to spray foam on their trees. To gel their structures, John hooked up a generator and fire hose to their 5,000 gallon water tank. A local fire department gave them the fire hose about a decade ago when it updated its equipment.

The gel “kept the house from burning and the windows from exploding,” John explained.

The Muensterman’s home wasn’t the only one in the area saved by gel.

“The gel was awesome,” said San Bernardino fire Capt. Jerren Grundy, whose crew was inspecting other homes near Highway 138 and Hess Road about the time the Muenstermans returned. Grundy estimated only a handful of buildings burned out of about 100 that were gelled. Those saved included his mother-in-law’s home.

“We were blown away,” he said. “There were homes we thought would burn (anyways).”

Long before the Blue Cut fire the Muenstermans did all they could to wildfire-proof their home. They laid a handful of gravel roads throughout their two and a half acre plot to act as fire breaks, and worked hard to clear their land of brush and other debris.

Although undamaged, their property showed signs of how near the blaze had come. The leaves of trees that weren’t foamed had turned from summer green to tobacco brown in the heat. Scorched gel clung to the sides of the garage, and one side of both the dog pen and the chicken coop were singed. Inside the garage, ashes had fallen through cracks in the metal roof and settled upon the blown glass and turquoise jewelry that John, a retired Apple Valley High School art teacher, crafts.

After Tuesday night’s gelling and foaming, and after loading up their two vehicles with two German shepherds, two cats, seven chickens and some of John’s turquoise — they have a 20-acre mining claim in Nevada — they stopped next door so John could jump the fence and release their neighbor’s three dogs from their pen.

“He’s my old Marine,” Vivian said of her husband’s feat.

They couldn’t fit the canine trio alongside their own animals, but figured the dogs would run to safety. Then they went to Rosamond to stay with Vivian’s 97-year-old mother. It was the first time the German shepherds — 11-year-old brothers Rommie and Zack — had left home.

The Muenstermans spent most of the week caring for their animals and “making sure they didn’t devastate” Vivian’s mother’s home. The chickens were cooped up in the garage, where they laid four eggs.

The Muenstermans are retired, yet Vivian works part-time at a Home Depot in North Fontana so they can afford fire insurance. When she told her boss she couldn’t work due to being displaced by the fire, she was told she’d still be paid for her normal schedule.

The pair was allowed to return Saturday because they have a Wrightwood mailing address and that area’s evacuation order had been downgraded to voluntary earlier in the day. They already knew their buildings were spared — Vivian has a cousin with access to satellite imagery showing they hadn’t burned — but Vivian said they still were amazed.

Their neighbor’s property was a different story. Part of an arched facade still stood, but most of the rest of the house had burned to the ground. A Lexus coupe parked in the driveway was scorched, its once-green paint blistered, charred or burned completely off.

John learned that two of the three dogs he saved had found refuge with another neighbor; the third remained unaccounted for.

The Muenstermans excused themselves after 20 minutes or so, for they had work to do — airing out the house and cleaning the yard. A generator hummed and throbbed in the background, providing power until electricity could be restored, they were told, Monday or Tuesday.

They’re handling the inconvenience with grace.

“We’re just blessed,” Vivian said, though saddened to think of the fire’s impact on the doves, quail, owls and other animals around their home.

One of the first things she did upon returning Saturday was put out water for the birds.