It’s the kind of thing that makes those who know her question why bad things happen to good people.
The tragedies Jan Swinton has suffered over the past year culminated in the devastating loss of her home in the Fallbrook fire earlier this month.
For Swinton, Program Manager of the Office of Workforce and Economic Development on campus, Feb. 10 started like a normal day as she left her north San Diego County home to attend a service at the First Methodist Church of Fallbrook, where she is an active member.
Little did she know that a fire would soon erupt, engulfing her home and 40 others in flames.
“You couldn’t describe it,” said Ken W. Patton, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development and longtime friend of Swinton. “It covered miles in a matter of minutes.”
The fire, which broke out that Sunday morning, claimed about 5,763 acres, according to the San Diego County Fire Department. About $6.6 million is expected in damages, but, for Swinton, no price can be put on what she has lost.
“In all the ashes we’ve only been able to find a diamond from her wedding ring and a knick-knack from her grandmother,” said Patton. “Everything else is gone.”
Last summer Swinton lost her husband of more than 30 years to cancer. They had built their Fallbrook home together.
Now it’s all gone.
She has been working for GCC for nearly 20 years, first as a counselor and for the last eight years in Patton’s office. Swinton stayed with a friend here in Glendale weekdays and went home for the weekends.
According to Patton, Swinton’s youngest son Jason, who is currently finishing his senior year in high school, was in the house when the fire broke out. In a courageous effort, he drove his car through the flames to escape, taking an elderly couple who lived next door with him.
Swinton’s daughter Jennifer is currently enrolled at NYU and her other son, Andrew, is attending Long Beach State.
Eight of Swinton’s immediate neighbors jumped into a swimming pool with just their faces out of the water in order to save themselves from the fire, said Patton. They are currently being treated for hypothermia.
The Red Cross has offered Swinton and her son three nights free lodging in a motel in San Diego County. Friends, including Patton, have also offered them places to stay.
“She is being incredibly strong due to her faith and her extended family like her church and the college,” said Patton. “She said several times as we were picking through the rubble, she was so grateful for all the friends and people who are supporting her.”
Patton, through the Foundation, has set up a donation fund where students and college employees can make checks payable to Jan Swinton to help her cover expenses.
The fire, driven by Santa Ana winds up to about 100 mph and low humidity, was so hot and powerful that it led to the sudden explosion of several homes and 11 minor injuries, according to San Diego County Fire Department.
“The fire was so hot it melted the front of one of the fire engines,” Patton said.
According to Patton, the fire department believes the fire was started by someone illegally burning trash. While the suspect had a permit to burn trash, he failed to comply with firefighter demands to halt all burning temporarily because of the low humidity.
While Swinton does have insurance to help her with some of the costs of rebuilding her home if she chooses to do so, there are many things that are irreplaceable.
“She’s a great human being, a great talent,” said Patton. “She is a giving, loving human being. You will find no one who would say a bad thing about her. She’s got it all except luck I guess.”
Patton and the rest of the college hope for her to return to work sometime this week.