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The Daily News of Los Angeles


The last nail is being hammered and screws tightened at a Sylmar Pony League complex damaged by a raging firestorm and canyon winds late last year.

Final touches to restore the Sylmar Independent Baseball & Softball League fields at the base of the Angeles National Forest are playing out this week.

The buildings and fields took a beating in what amounted to $150,000 in damage from the Creek fire that started in the early morning hours of Dec. 5, eventually burning 1,749 acres; destroying 123 structures, including 60 homes; and damaging 81 buildings before being contained a month later.

Firestorms and canyon winds clocked at 75 mph to 80 mph toppled trees at the sports complex, and backstops on the nine diamonds were blown to bits.

Shade canopies and snack-bar roofs also went sailing, a 60-foot flagpole was bent at a 45-degree angle and infield topsoil dirt was stripped down to bedrock and blew miles away.

"The fire was so close to us, it generated its own weather pattern," said league president Joe Kirk. "The worst part was losing the bleacher covers. We don't have any fire insurance. We get no city or government funding. We (survive) with fees and donations. I started a GoFundMe page and raised $3,300."

Eighty percent of the cost to repair the Pony League facilities came from local retailers that provided free materials and labor, according to Kirk.

Habitat for Humanity also stepped up to the plate after the league opened their offices to Creek fire victims applying for help from the global nonprofit housing organization, according to Dawkins Hodges, vice president of programs.

In exchange, over this past weekend,

staff and volunteers from Habitat for Humanity were rebuilding bleacher covers at the 22-acre complex that's been home to boys and girls ages 4 to 15 years old for the past 61 years.

Hodges said the nonprofit used Habitat for Humanity International funds and about $10,000 from a pool of money collected at check stands in Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions supermarket set up for fire victims.

Coincidently, Dana Anton's nearby Kagel Canyon home is also getting final repair completed this week by Habitat for Humanity workers.

Her home-based music business was inhabitable for six months due to wildfire soot and ashes.

When Anton heard the nonprofit needed volunteers at the nearby fields, she didn't hesitate to pitch in.

"I'm here to pay it forward," Anton, 53, said on Saturday, as she rolled white paint onto wooden planks that would be used as a base for the bleacher covers.

It wouldn't be the first time someone was paying it forward for this field and the east San Fernando Valley kids who use it.

Back in 2005, Fred Duran, then the league's president, tapped community support and cut through red tape to open a temporary road to replace a vital permanent road to the field that had been damaged by floods. It saved the season for hundreds of kids.

Volunteer Jeff Meyer of Santa Clarita hammered away this past Saturday representing Thrivent Financial, a Christian financial service organization and Habitat for Humanity supporter.

"It is in our (organization's) DNA to give back," said Meyer from under his hard hat. "We all have kids and grandkids. I played baseball. Providing shelter for spectators to watch the games is a great feeling. It's a gratifying experience."

This year's baseball season ended and some of the all-star teams traveled to Bakersfield and Simi Valley to compete.

But, league officials hope when its 62nd season begins next spring, the estimated 100 players chased off because of the fire damages come back.

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June 20, 2018


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