In the six months since the May 14 Poinsettia Fire destroyed his two-bedroom adobe house, Greg Saska went from sleeping in his 1976 Mercedes 450 SE to living in a tent and then a 576-square-foot garage on the property located on the 1780 block of Skimmer Court.
The 63-year-old Saska said in a November 6interview that he was "strapped financially" and let insurance lapse on the 1966 Larry Weir house that he inherited from his mother Isabel.
"I tried to make cuts. The premium was high, and the City of Carlsbad fire department was so efficient," said Saska.
Neighbor Stephanie Danielson-Tan and her husband Ted on May 19 started the "Greg Saska Rebuilding Fund" on gofundme.com to raise $200,000. "We are doing this because Greg is not only a good friend and a kind soul, but because we feel so fortunate that our house is still standing, and it is the least we can do for someone less fortunate," Stephanie wrote. The effort generated $2215 from 30 people in five months.
Johnny Aragon said he became aware of Saska's situation while driving on nearby El Camino Real. During the summer, he set up a Facebook page and website with a link to donate on youcaring.com. The fundraising goal is $500,000; no money had been donated at press time.
Facebook videos provide a chronology that starts with the KCAL Channel 9 report of Saska watching his home burn. Aragon recorded Saska during the ordeal, while he cleared debris and lived in the tent that Danielson gave him.
Aragon said, "This is a rich neighborhood, and he was living in a tent. That was unacceptable for me." Aragon wanted to make sure people didn't forget, so his publicity materials include the question, "Who is Greg Saska?"
Saska’s mother bought the 1580-square-foot house with terrazzo floors in 1976. Before moving in with her, Saska's employment included work in real estate in Colorado and in consumer relations for Saab in Westwood. He later worked part-time for Century 21 in Carlsbad and Escondido. A rental home in Colorado provides monthly income, and Saska said the sale of the property will help with expenses.
The fire destroyed his house and 1974 Lincoln Continental Mark IV coupe and 1983 BMW 320i. Also lost were a 1978 Corvette and Bayliner boat stored by other people. A man who neighbors called "the squatter" lived in the detached garage, so Saska slept in the Mercedes. "I've got a heated seat," he said. Of the tent, Saska said, "I'm used to camping outside."
Stephanie and Ted spoke about attempts to evict the squatter, who left in September. Saska now lives in the garage filled with his possessions.
Will Foss, Carlsbad building and code-enforcement manager, spoke in a November 8 interview about the city's actions. After the fire, he contacted Saska, saying the property needed to be cleaned up because of dangers such as the structure falling.
Realizing Saska's financial situation, Foss said he tried "to be creative. We're not giving away public funds."
The city issued a September 4 notice declaring the intent to "abate and remove" a public nuisance through "demolition and removal." Foss said the nuisance designation would lower the cost for Saska. The city contracted with Casper Company, a Spring Valley demolition business that gave Saska a discount for work Foss said would have cost from $20,000 to $30,000. "It was done for under $10,000," he said.
Work started September 11, and Foss handled demolition during the week it took to "knock the building down" and clean up. Coast Waste Management donated 15 40-yard Dumpsters that were filled with debris. Foss said metal and adobe were recycled. Other debris was hauled to Otay Mesa.
Furthermore, the city council agreed to waive permit fees when Saska is ready to build, said Foss.
Saska said he hopes to rebuild "as soon as possible." He's considering a modular house, but if someone plans to tear down an old house, Saska will take it. "I'll pay for the move; I'm not looking for a handout." He added, "I'll never be uninsured again."