Pubdate: Sun, 16 Aug 2009
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Santa Cruz Sentinel
Author: Alia Wilson
Cited: Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana


SWANTON -- Between the raining ash and lack of sleep, Valerie Corral 
struggled to keep her eyes open Saturday afternoon, as she watched 
flames continue to burn on her Swanton Road property.

"I haven't slept since Thursday," Corral said.

All the food in her home is depleted, but even if she had any there 
would be no way to cook it because all of the propane tanks have been 
removed from her property.  She and her husband, Mike, cooked their 
breakfast on a dual-sided hot plate.

Priorities such as eating and sleeping have been shifted drastically. 
Instead the Corrals are staking out to protect their 106-acre 
property, including a nearly mature pot garden planted earlier this 
year to benefit members of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana.

"One hundred percent of this garden goes to our 150 members," Corral 
said. "If this were to go, it would affect them all."

Five fire crews came in Friday to help battle flames alongside 
Valerie and Mike Corral, founders of the Wo/Men's Alliance for 
Medical Marijuana. By that point, the blaze already rushed down the 
upper portion of their property in the mountains, destroying about 
half of it. Nearly three-fourths of their property, mostly trees and 
a small cabin, was lost in the fire by Saturday afternoon. Two homes, 
one for the volunteers and one for the Corrals, and the pot garden, 
with plants up to 4 feet tall, were left standing.

Since Friday afternoon, fire crews have been of assistance, with 
helicopters constantly emerging from the smoky air, dropping water 
overhead around Valerie's home, a few hundred feet away from the 
garden. Fire crews acknowledged the legal status of the garden and 
said their objective was not to protect the garden but to protect the 
structures and put out the burning mountainside.

"The flames are closest to Val's house," WAMM board member Suzanne 
Pfeil said. "Valerie and Mike and some other volunteers have been out 
there, doing their best to defend the houses and garden with hoses 
and shovels.  So far so good."

The small cabin that was lost was used for meditation located on the 
upper half of the property, Corral said.

Mike Corral tended the pot garden Saturday, watering and trimming the 
plants, as helicopters flew overhead.

"I've never been so happy to see helicopters," Mike Corral said, 
referring to what in the past might have been a DEA raid instead of a 
helping hand. "Now whenever I don't hear them I start to worry."

On a ridge above the garden, a strike team comprised of firefighters 
from Zayante, UC Santa Cruz, Branciforte, Scotts Valley and Cal Fire 
established a fire line.  Crews pulled from a 10,000-gallon water 
tank on the property.

"I was doing better until the firefighters told me they can save my 
house again," Valerie Corral said after a perimeter had already been 
safely established around her home. New flames sparked in different 
locations on the ridge above the garden. Within seconds a small flame 
shot up a full grown pine tree but helicopters and fire crews quickly 
doused them.

"It's an uncanny thing to witness," Corral said. "We've been taking 
shifts every half-hour to keep an eye on the perimeter. I figure if I 
can do something I will, but I would have nothing if it weren't for 
the firefighters. They are incredible."

Prayer flags waved in the breeze above a special memorial garden on 
the property dedicated to WAMM members who have died. The garden was 
left completely untouched by the flames.

"There are grave stones up there and special rocks to remember them 
by and it didn't burn at all," Pfeil said. "We're amazed, it went 
right around it."

The Corrals have plans to expand the pot garden in the near future as 
membership increases, but the project has been put on hold until the 
property is back to normal.

"I can't even imagine what my winter is going to be like," Valerie Corral said. 
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