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The Tough Road To Rebuild A Historic Cabin, Memories After Wildfire Ruin

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A California wildfire destroyed a group of historic cabins in the Angeles National Forest in September. For some families, these places were their ties to the past. Rebuilding the homes and memories won't be easy. From member station KPCC, Sharon McNary has this audio postcard.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CHIRPING)

SHARON MCNARY, BYLINE: In the mountains north of Los Angeles, there's a hidden community of tiny rustic cabins, some more than a century old occupying federal land in the Angeles National Forest. To get to the cabins in Big Santa Anita Canyon, you have to hike down a mile or more of steep dirt trail. No vehicles allowed.

(SOUNDBITE OF DONKEY BRAYING)

MCNARY: For generations, pack animals, like these donkeys named Kenny and Qura, have hauled propane tanks, groceries, even furniture into the canyon. On a bright weekend morning, I'm walking with Ria Apodaca and her family as they hike to see what's left of their cabin after the Bobcat Fire.

RIA APODACA: As we walk down, there's little spots that have deep memories for me and for my siblings.

MCNARY: Ria's younger sister, Gina Fenard, is alongside.

GINA FENARD: This cabin is such a big part of our dad's. It was definitely his, like, passion.

MCNARY: Their father, Daniel Eliseo Apodaca, bought the cabin in 1969. He grew up in LA's Latino cultural center, Boyle Heights, served in the army and became an accountant after college. He loved jazz and mariachi. Gina says he filled the cabin with family, friends, mementos and live music.

FENARD: Dad was Mr. Show And Tell.

APODACA: Yes.

FENARD: And he would always be like, oh, come on in. This is the piano. This is my collection of old cowboy photos.

MCNARY: How did he get a piano down here?

FENARD: Two dollies and six men. They rolled it on the dolly, and then the other part of the crew would go to the front of that dolly, slide the piano onto that dolly, slide it down a little more and then pivot the other dolly in front and - for a mile.

MCNARY: For a whole mile. Their father didn't even play the piano; he'd just invite random hikers passing by to come in and play.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)

MCNARY: We go over a narrow bridge and around a bend. And there it is. Not much is left of the cabin. Only the stone walls, fireplace and chimney remain. Ria points to a hunk of cast iron and a tangle of metal wires.

APODACA: This is what's left of the piano.

MCNARY: Oh, my God.

MCNARY: Their father visited the cabin on aging, shaky legs three years ago. The steep climb out would be his last. He died August 31 at age 85, one week before the Bobcat Fire started.

APODACA: This year has brought us a lot of grief and a lot of sadness, a lot of things that have happened that are out of our control. But coming down here and shoveling ash is, actually, for me, part of a healing process.

MCNARY: They won't know for months whether the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the land, will let them rebuild. And it'll be quite difficult because lumber and cement would have to be hauled in by donkeys, like Kenny and Qura. But Ria says the family wants to try.

APODACA: You know, we're coming together with a spirit to be able to rebuild something. And this year hasn't provided us with many opportunities to do that.

MCNARY: For now, Ria says they'll use the remains of the piano for some kind of an art piece dedicated to their father and their shared memories.

For NPR News, I'm Sharon McNary in Big Santa Anita Canyon, north of Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNCLE TUPELO'S "SANDUSKY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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