CRESTLINE – Forty-foot-tall trees ripped down the hill behind the Petersons’ house like bobsleds.
Propelled by a wave of mud and rocks, the evergreens shot over an embankment and impaled the house next door. Downhill and 25 feet west of its foundation, its splintered remains were crushed against a tree.
An intact staircase landed on a lower-creek bed more than 200 feet away.
The gas main broke free, pumping noxious air into the neighborhood. The house brought electrical lines down with it.
With sparks flaring and gas spurting, the situation Monday on Dart Canyon Road could have been worse after a massive landslide the night before flattened one house, destroyed another and left three seriously damaged.
“It looks like a bomb went off in there,’ Crest Forest Fire Capt. Rick Bryan said of the land.
Fire Chief William Bagnell cautioned that as the third front in a five-day series of storms hits San Bernardino County today more homes on the western rim of the San Bernardino Mountains could be lost.
Brandina Rigsby, the owner of the house that before 6 p.m. Sunday stood at 187 S. Dart Canyon Road, was not home when the landslide and flood hit. Neighbors said it was a vacation home. No injuries were reported.
“I can’t believe this was a house,’ Elizabeth Krumwiede, 40, said of Rigsby’s house. “It looks like a treehouse now.’
Justin Peterson, 17, spoke soberly as he surveyed the rubble. His bedroom was sprayed by rocks and mud, but his parents’ home went largely unscathed.
“Our pickup truck is probably down the street,’ he said optimistically, He didn’t recognize the gray truck in front of him. It was on its side and wrapped around a tree.
“Yeah, that’d be it,’ he said when a visitor pointed it out. “That doesn’t even look like a truck.’
Linda Nardi, who lives down the street, was reading a book when her husband heard a rumble and ran to the back of the house.
“Oh my God!’ he yelled. “The hill is coming down.’
The mountain spit out massive rocks. The landslide littered Dart Canyon with appliances and building materials. Mud severed the neighborhood in two by forming a river across the road.
Fifty feet from Rigsby’s house, a baby stroller laid covered in mud.
Toys were everywhere.
“All I could think of was Waterman Canyon,’ Nardi said.
The Old Fire ripped through north San Bernardino and the mountains in fall 2003. Then a storm pounded the vulnerable slopes on Christmas Day. A debris avalanche in Waterman Canyon killed 14 people celebrating Christmas at the St. Sophia Camp. Two others died that day at KOA Kampground in Devore.
Those deaths are an ominous backdrop for an already tenacious winter season. Record amounts of rain have fallen in the first 10 days of 2005.
Residents of Dart Canyon felt they cheated death.
Five minutes before the trees and rocks blasted out of the north hill, Shay Moss, 17, told his mother he was going across the street to Justin Peterson’s.
“I said, ‘No. You’re not crossing that bridge, Shay. It’s too dangerous,” Katherine Moss recalled.
While they were arguing, Peterson phoned: “Shay, we just had a mudslide. Don’t come over,’ Moss said.
“Thank God I was arguing with him,’ Moss said.
The landslide was a wake-up call to this quiet neighborhood tucked in a canyon north of Lake Gregory. Despite being only miles from fingers of the Old Fire, which killed six and burned more than 1,000 homes, some said they had never seen nature’s wrath more pronounced.
Crest Forest firefighters worked damage control Monday as they did over the weekend. They attended to reports of flooding throughout the area, sandbagging homes if only to delay the imminent.
“Other areas all over the district are having the same problem,’ Bagnell said. “And the weather does not seem to berelenting.’