|By Sean Olson, Albuquerque Journal,
N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 26, 2007 - SAN DIEGO -- Michael Gallegos didn't hesitate when the fires started taking people's homes.
As president and CEO of American Property Management Corp., the largest hotel company in New Mexico and San Diego, Gallegos immediately started inviting displaced San Diego residents to his hotels for reduced prices -- or at no cost.
"It was just the right thing to do," the Las Vegas, N.M., native said. "Maybe it's the New Mexico in me; I don't know."
Gallegos' three hotels in the San Diego area filled rapidly, and staffers volunteered to stay until the wee hours of the morning to help in any way they could, said Robert Augistine, American Property director of operations.
People paid what they could, and some were given complimentary rooms, Gallegos said.
"No one was turned down," he said.
And entire families were invited, including pets.
"There was a pig in the parking lot," said Geraldine Gorahm, an employee at Gallegos' Holiday Inn Sea World.
The Dufresnes fled Ramona, Calif., with four pets in tow and found their way to the Holiday Inn Sea World after being evacuated from their own home, a family member's home and the first hotel they checked into, in Rancho Bernardo.
"This is our second fire, so we didn't hesitate to get out," Leo Dufresne Jr. said. The family had been hit by the Cedar fire in 2003.
Cindy Dufresne said her family believed their home was not damaged by the fire based on news reports, but hadn't been able to return and check. Ramona was still closed off to residents as of Thursday evening.
Cindy Dufresne said Gallegos' hotel was accommodating, even several days into the stay.
"It could be worse," she said. "We're happy; we're comfortable."
Gallegos, who owns the Wyndham, Downtown Doubletree and Radisson hotels in Albuquerque, said that the tragedy was hard on residents, but that it was rewarding to hear their stories.
"It was very touching. People were showing up with their favorite photo. Children were showing up with their favorite stuffed animal," he said.
The hotels were mostly clear by Thursday, when fires had died down. Many were allowed to return to their homes. There were no traces of the families in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Sea World, except for a table of free snacks and dog food provided by the hotel.
But a few, like the Dufresnes, were still unable to return.
Gallegos said any guests displaced by the fire were invited to stay as long as they needed, no matter what discount they needed.
"Our direction is to do anything and everything we (can for) the people who have been displaced," he said.
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