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Last House Standing

Steve Homel, mother is Penny, daughter is Elyse, home
CBS/The Early Show
With towering flames bearing down on Southern California towns, firefighters were digging in to protect hundreds of homes while looking for more help from the weather.

In the San Diego suburb of Scripps Ranch, more than 300 homes had already been destroyed, including every home on Pinecastle Street but one: That of Penny and Steve Homel.

The family left the house in a panic several days ago, they told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm.

"We were just so frightened and just thinking to get our family out, our animals out and what's the most important thing you can take?" Penny Homel said. "And then it just became a blur and we were out of here."

The family heard on the news that their entire neighborhood had been destroyed. To see if their house was gone, Steve Homel sent a fax to his home machine.

"I figured, well, if the machine is melted, it's not going to accept the fax, so let's send one through," he said, and it was accepted.

The text of the fax message? "God bless this house and the firemen that protect it. Homel family."

"It was here when we came back to the house," he said.

Scripps Ranch, according to its Web site, is a community of 18,000 within San Diego. "The town is carefully nestled among thousands of acres of rolling hills and groves of eucalyptus and pine, offering scenic views of the beautiful countryside," the site says.

Prices for single-family detached homes like the Homels' start in the low $400,000s and can exceed $1 million.

Although the Homel family is glad their house survived, they're sad for their neighbors.

"I grew up in this neighborhood, so I can name 20 close friends off the top of my head who don't have homes," said their daughter Elyse. "Just driving through the area, seeing left to right homes of close family friends and personal friends that were standing in ashes without a home, it was just absolutely devastating."

"They're sifting through the ashes of their life," Penny said of their neighbors.

She attributes the Homels' fortune to God.

"I think God needed to know that there was a place that [the neighbors] could go," she said Thursday. "I know this sounds very silly, but I have the only two flushing toilets on the street. You've been out here sifting all day, you need some basic things and I've just been trying to do that for my neighbors.

"I walk up and down the street saying do you need water? Do you need to go to the bathroom?

"But everybody is just sort of in a state of shock," she added.