Witch fire victim burned twice

By Rose Marie Scott-Blair

Witch fire victim Marjorie Hutchison thought she was started on the road to recovery when neighbor Steve Grassilli installed a new water tank and pump on her property on Old Julian Highway. But when he went back last week to turn on the water, he discovered that everything had been stolen.

“He called and said that everything he had put in was gone,” Hutchison said. “The new tank, new pump, circuitry, valves, pipes — it’s all gone. I don’t know how people could do something like that — as if I haven’t had enough bad luck. I lost everything in the fire — and now this.”

Hutchison reported the theft to the Sheriff’s Department. The deputy who went to her property to investigate told her that no one else has reported losing a water tank to thieves.

“But I want other people who are rebuilding to know that is sort of thing is going on,” she said. “I’d like them to be forewarned.”

Also taken from Hutchison’s property are more than 200 cottage stones, a three-tiered fountain and Rain Bird sprinklers. Sheriff’s Deputy C. Sanchez told her that deputies will be patrolling the area in the event the thieves return for more.

For almost 35 years, Hutchison has lived about six miles south of town on Old Julian Highway on a property called Sky Island.

“It was a very nice home in a setting so beautiful that it looked like a park,” she said, “but you wouldn’t know that today.”  

Hutchison estimated that it will cost her $2,000 to replace the equipment and Grassilli, owner of Ramona Pump and Supply, offered to get started right away, but she told him to wait. If she decides to proceed, it will be the fourth time she has rebuilt on the same property and she is wondering if she should just sell the land and relocate.

“I think it may be time to move on,” the 70-year-old Hutchison said. “I’ve had too much bad luck there. I really love Ramona and I hate to leave, but sometimes life deals you these things.”

Her bad luck with Sky Island began in 1974 when the house burned down about a year after she and husband, Clifford Hutchison, bought it.

“The previous owners had wired it themselves and faulty wiring caused the fire,” she said. “But bad went to worse. We had a lousy contractor who did a very poor job and we found out later that he had stolen someone else’s license. And his foreman had just been released from prison and had also stolen a contractor’s license, and they were lying to each other. It was almost a comedy of errors. We ended up in court with lawsuits for seven years and a malpractice case against our lawyer, who waited too long to file. It was a nightmare.”

After a few years, the Hutchisons finally moved into their new home, but in 1978, “terrible winds blew through Ramona and during that storm, the roof went off,” she said. “We found out that it had not been properly installed, but we got it put back on and started rebuilding again.

“Then in 1981 or ‘82, another windstorm took the roof off again and it was followed by heavy rain so the whole inside was destroyed by water. We had to leave for about a year while the house was rebuilt again.”

Through the years, Hutchison has fought personal battles, as well. Husband Clifford, an engineer, succumbed to emphysema in 1986 after 26 years of marriage, and her partner of 22 years, John Flock, a teacher at the local bridge club, died last June.

Meanwhile, Hutchison, who has kept her sense of humor firmly intact, has looked for ways to supplement her Social Security “and keep going — you can’t live on it,” without having to go back to work in the medical field. For a couple years, she bred boxers, which she describes as “wonderful dogs.”  

She worked hard to convert Sky Island into a bed and breakfast, “but that was short-lived. After one guest, I decided that I wasn’t comfortable having strangers in the house. I hadn’t thought through my own feelings.”

In the months before the fire, Hutchison was putting her park-like property together as a site for weddings and other celebrations. “I had two weddings and one quinceanera,” she said. “It was just wonderful. Everyone had a good time and loved the place.”

It was a dream cut short by the fire. Since the October 2007 fire, she has been living in a house in the Ryland Homes area.

Then in February Hutchison was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer and is scheduled to have surgery in a couple weeks. Her response: “If I can just survive this....”

   
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