Middle eastern idiot+viet vs burly white cop
Ashtari saw his four-bedroom house as an investment that could change his life. With his girlfriend of five years, his sister and his brother-in-law, and some financial assistance from his mother, a registered nurse, they had scraped together a down payment. They bought it out of foreclosure from a bank. Price: $420,000.
It is a work in progress. New rose bushes line the front walkway, but the detritus of unfinished home-improvement projects clutters the yard. A table and chairs on the back patio take in a nice view of Battle Mountain, but there is no dining table. Still, it is theirs. And no one, Ashtari figured, cared about it more than he did. If it were to catch on fire, he said, who would be there to help? If every fire had to start with a single ember, he figured, couldn't he put that ember out himself?
So Ashtari told his sister to leave, to go to their mother's place closer to downtown San Diego. She did, her car packed with their photo albums, the loan papers for the house, a laptop computer.
Ashtari told his girlfriend, 20-year-old Trang Pham, recently accepted into a nursing program at San Diego State, to go with his sister. She declined. They'd started dating five years ago at Mount Carmel High School in Rancho Peñasquitos.
"If he's going to stay, I'm going to stay," Pham said. She smiled politely, then walked back into the kitchen, where she began to wash the lunch dishes.
His mother, Ferechteh Nikrafter, called, worried about them. She started the conversation in English: "Why are you still there?" Then she switched to their native Persian; Ashtari was born in Iran and moved to the United States as a boy. "Dahaiti," she told him. It's an expression, he said later, that essentially means "Don't be foolish."
He did not feel foolish, he said.
Over the course of the day, he watched the news, freezing the screen with his remote control from time to time so he could study a map of the active fire zones.
He positioned a stepladder under the opening to the attic and poked his head up there every few minutes, using a flashlight to make sure no embers had worked their way inside.
He stared out the back window at the fires, as Battle Mountain faded in and out from behind a blanket of smoke.
Occasionally, a helicopter thundered overhead, carrying water or flame retardant to an active wall of fire just a few blocks away.
"I don't want to be somewhere far away and find out that something has happened to the house," he said. "Here, I can do something. I can keep an eye out."
Outside, Odom seethed.
"I just don't understand the mentality," he said. "You do your darndest to help them. And they do their darndest not to let you help."
Under a mandatory evacuation order, police could have theoretically removed Ashtari and the other holdouts by force, Odom said.
"We just don't have the manpower," he said. "We don't have the bodies to drag them out kicking and screaming."
Firefighters say authorities cannot remove residents from a home but can bar them from returning if they do leave.
Odom said he and his colleagues would man the checkpoint until they were forced to leave to protect themselves.
"If that happens, I'll go pound on the door to give them one last warning," Odom said. "Then I'm gone."
Ashtari said he was ready.
"If a captain wants to go down with his ship," he said, "they let him."
With the sky choked with smoke, nightfall came early Monday. The house was still standing. The fire was still raging.