(Editor’s Note: Adrian Florido and Sam Hodgson are getting to know a different San Diego neighborhood daily.)

Twenty-six miles north of downtown San Diego, in the serene agricultural preserve of San Pasqual, Don Chrystal was sitting outside a small white trailer parked just off the side of the main road.

A few feet away, a single concrete step was covered in dirt and weeds.

“That’s all that’s left,” Chrystal said.

When the 2007 Witch Creek Fire ravaged close to 200,000 acres in northern San Diego County, it claimed hundreds of homes, including the one that Chrystal and his wife, Nancy, lived in.

But it also swallowed one of San Pasqual’s few landmarks: its country store.

No longer did residents of this northeastern-most community of the city of San Diego have a place to buy milk or ice cream without having to drive into “town,” or a place to leave each other messages on the community bulletin board.

The Chrystals had moved to San Pasqual in 2004 to take over management of the store, which Nancy’s niece had recently bought. They had plans to renovate it and turn it into more of a community gathering place, with a coffee cart and a grill for burgers.

But then the fire hit, dashing all those dreams.

The Chrystals moved to Ramona, where they lived in a mobile home. They came close to moving to Washington, but last year decided they didn’t want to leave the community where they’d quickly made friends.

So they set up their trailer on the piece of property that Nancy’s niece still owns, and started making plans to put a permanent home there. That’s what they’re working on now.

Last week, Nancy went to a huge wedding reception for her neighbors, who live just on the other side of the scruffy dirt hill that is the San Pasqual Cemetery. Many of San Pasqual’s few hundred residents, often farmers or agricultural workers, attended.

“Everyone was asking me when we’re going to rebuild the store,” she said. “They said, ‘We need that store here!’”

But the Chrystals don’t think they have it in them. Rebuilding their home has been trying enough because of all the hoops they’ve had to jump through, they said, to get permits from San Diego County. (Their property is technically on unincorporated county land, because while much of San Pasqual Valley falls within San Diego city limits, it is actually sliced and diced by several entities, including Escondido and San Diego County. Residents often don’t know where the lines end and where they begin, though, because it’s a single community).

For a while people were stopping by thinking the Chrystals’ trailer was a temporary replacement for the store. But for the foreseeable future, they’ll have to continue driving the roughly 10 miles into either Escondido or Ramona to buy basic items.

“We don’t have the money to rebuild it,” Nancy Chrystal said.

I’m reporting from San Pasqual today as I explore a different San Diego neighborhood each day this week. Have a story idea for me? Email me at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or call me at 619.325.0528 and follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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