A House is no Longer a Home When a Landslide Brings You Down

Part 1.

I started this story last Saturday after I took pictures of homes that are now red and yellow tagged and about to slide down one of the hills in San Pablo, CA. For 21 days it has rained and anyone living on a precarious slope in the Bay Area knows the dangers. One of the homes that is red tagged was actually built on the same spot that a former residence in 1973 tumbled down to its final fate. How people can build on hills or on fault lines just for a view in this area boggles my mind.



As I drove by and watched neighbours help each other load belongings into U Hauls I understood the feelings that everyone had. Fifteen years ago my home had been ravaged by fire and I too sat there looking at destruction that I did not have any control over. I cannot begin to tell you how one feels when devastation hits your inner core as you watch something you loved vanish in a few fleeting hours.

It was a cold January day and the kids were flooding the rink outside when I noticed our German shepherd, Snoopy racing in from the greenhouse with a huge plume of black smoke trailing him. If there is an emergency I am not the one to send to an EMT unit as I panic easily. I screamed for someone to call 911 and we simply thought a hose spraying a steady stream of water into the basement window was enough to contain the fire.


Within five minutes the basement was engulfed with flames and I attempted to go into the greenhouse to save the birds and my ferret. Smoke quickly turns into a blackness that cannot be measured on a colour chart and within seconds I was trapped. A neighbour came in to search for me and ended up saving my life as I could no longer find my way out.



My sons and I were sent over to a neighbour’s home and we sat there, shivering and watching the firemen try to save our house. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t and the kids kept asking me if everything was going to be alright. In my irrational mind I thought things would return to normal once the fire trucks were gone and life would go back to the way it was.

The fight for our home was not over for another 18 hours. The firemen left at about 5 pm overwhelmed with the intensity of the smoke and one ended up in the hospital. They had done their best and thought the fire had been put to rest but Angelo and his father sat guard all night watching for hot spots. Sure enough at 1 am a wall in the living room went up in flames and had they not been there the house would have been a total loss.



The next day the kids and I returned to our home and I knew then and there that everything was not going to be alright. The living room hardwood floor was swollen with water and raised in many places. The charred Christmas tree and all its decorations stood against silent black walls. I stood there and realized that there was a long road ahead of us and my tears began.

My oldest son told me that he was so sorry that his monkey “Congo” had caused all of the damage. I looked at him in shock and realized he thought that the Beanie Baby he had bought at Michaels two days before was the cause of the fire. I quickly tried to change his mind but knew that he would forever blame the little stuffed monkey as the cause.

Within three days a restoration unit had been summoned by the insurance company and we were notified that because the house had been built with three foot stone walls that they were not going to tear it down. It would take an eternity of gutting the house and rebuilding the interior at a cost of $500,000.00 to make it whole again.



Watching the contents of your home that were not damaged being catalogued, wrapped and sent away in boxes by strangers is something I hope no one ever has to live through. For months I lived in the kitchen that had not been touched and baked for the 11 carpenters that worked in my home and became my surrogate family. They had smiles for me every day and helped me wipe away my tears. They became a source of laughter for my sons and the day they finally left I felt like I had lost my best friends.

No matter what has been done to your home, once it has been touched by tragedy it will never be the same. It seems to lose the original soul in the belly of its interior and because of the destruction many pieces of life are lost and will never come back.



As I sat on the floor of the restoration company looking at the items that had been salvaged and were going to be returned to my newly repaired home, I finally realized that life was not about the stuff you own.

From that day on I wanted very little and was grateful that the lives of my sons had been spared, but it was too late. Like the tree in the picture above that is fighting to remain erect against the sliding earth I had to fight too. The landslide in my mind had begun and it was slowly falling down the hill.

Text and Images: Linda Seccaspina

Part 2 next Tuesday:   “How the Book Series Sweet Valley High Saved my Sanity”

Notes: The fire was caused by some field mouse that shorted a wire as he ran around in the basement ceiling.

Picture 1- Homes that are tagged and can not be lived in now as they have lost their backyards. The yellow home is red tagged and on the same  spot as the original home that fell down the hill in 1973.

Picture 2:- They found out that there is a huge underground  stream running under the whole neighbourhood. It was just gushing down the hill.

Picture 3:- Old servants galley kitchen that was used in the early 1900’s that was converted to a playroom. The Fig trees looked like they were dead but they came back to life a year later.

Picture4:- The main living room that was gutted from the basement up. The house was built in 1867 by Scottish stone masons.

Picture 5:- Springside Hall after renovations in Ontario, Canada

Picture 6: The trees in the way of the crumbling earth in San Pablo were at 45- 75 degree angles.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhNrrrCCTdA&rel=0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&version=3]

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Filed under Healing, Heart, Inspirational, Journal

10 Responses to A House is no Longer a Home When a Landslide Brings You Down

  1. Linda Seccaspina

    Thanks Hayley!

  2. viajera

    “As I sat on the floor of the restoration company looking at the items that had been salvaged and were going to be returned to my newly repaired home, I finally realized that life was not about the stuff you own.

    From that day on I wanted very little and was grateful that the lives of my sons had been spared, but it was too late. ”

    You’re absolutely right, stuff is just stuff, but losing your home can really do a number on you. I had just moved to New Orleans one week before Katrina. Due to a turn of luck and 3 feet of elevation, my home was spared, but many of my friends lost everything, and we all joined the diaspora for the next 3-6 months. It does make you realize that life is about people and connections, not stuff; it makes you appreciate the little things more. But it also keeps you looking over your shoulder, realizing that you could lose your home again at any moment. Just last night my partner and I were talking about how, ever since Katrina, we’ve kept a mental list of “back-up cities” we could move to if/when NOLA is gone for good. Every summer I put together an evacuation box which I keep readily accessible, because you never know when you might need to throw it in your trunk and hit the road.

    Yes, stuff is just stuff. But a home is more than just stuff, and it’s supposed to be permanent, and losing it (or even nearly losing it) can continue to affect you in unexpected ways years later. Hugs to you, Linda, and I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.

  3. Linda Seccaspina

    Thanks viajera,

    Yes once the home was gone.. the life of everyone crumbled and it could not be put back together sad to say. I know what you mean when you say you look over your shoulder. I carry very little with me these days as it has affected me for life.


  4. LHeure Bleue

    What happened was terrifying and sorrowful. The knowledge that security can be ripped away in an instant and you’re completely powerless stays with you forever. It’s a greater loss than any belongings, one minute everything is fine and the next it’s all gone.

  5. suzanne smith

    I think this was a real turning point in your life. What a tragedy. You bring it home with your descriptions. Maybe I should get the outlet that just sparked fixed here. I just tend to try to ignore things like that. Electricians are expensive.

  6. Linda Seccaspina

    Zanelle.. get it fixed and to the both of you…
    Knowing people like you were part of my recovery.

  7. Blanka

    I am the victim of San Pablo landslide, the one, who’s house is RED TAGGED. I agree with you on one thing, that the house is no longer a home , when a landslide brings you down. We didn’t bought the house, just because of the “view”. The house felt so right and warm when we saw it first time. I felt in love with the house and area right away. We did requested a history review from our Real Estate Agency. Unfortunately, they lack any info about previous slides in the past. That is why now we are in litigation with the City, Real Estate , and others involved in the house or hill . My heart is in pain especially now, being it 1 year since it happened. I can not drive by without looking up the hill where my house is hanging and knowing that I will never be able to move back . We lost a home and house in one, our credit is completely ruined, since we can’t pay mortgage for something you no longer have. We are starting from zero. Bad credit, which we have no fault at all, renting and saving for a new house, maybe? It is hard to start from beginning, in the midlife.

  8. Linda Seccaspina

    Oh Blanka..
    I stood there that day taking pictures and felt so sad as no one had control in this matter. The fact that you can still look at it makes me cry. I cannot look at my home without remembering and mine is still standing but I am no longer standing in it.


    • Blanka

      Thank you Linda,
      it is hard to look up that hill (the house and the hill is quite visible from the freeway 80). And it will get harder ,when the bank will come and demolish the house. Since it is a threat to the others houses at the bottom. I am in one way fortunate, that my family got out safe, no harms to anyone. But I am furious, because that should never happened. Houses shouldn’t be build on landslide hills, but I quests, these days, anyone can get permit to build anywhere. We bought that house 7 years ago, and the report never showed a history of sliding hill in the past ( that fact was very cleverly covered up by county) Well, we lost the house and home in one, now we just have to hope that justice will be served when we’ll get to court….sad

  9. Hayley Rose

    Thanks for sharing these tragic stories Linda, Vjare, and Blanka- I am glad angels were watching over you all

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