When last October's firestorm swept through the master planned community of Scripps Ranch, it left 344 homeowners in need of a rebuild--and not enough custom home builders to start on the job. But several large-scale builders have stepped into the breach with innovative solutions.

Brookfield Homes, of Del Mar, Calif., has offered fire victims a swap: their lot in Scripps Ranch as a down payment on a new house in a nearby development. Model construction has already started at Stonebridge Estates, an 850-lot development being built in conjunction with Corky McMillin Cos. Because the project is located in Scripps Ranch, families can stay in the same neighborhood; they'll also get first crack at the new houses in a private release.

"I can offer them a much shorter time frame," said Brookfield president Stephen Doyle. Fire victims will need to agree on an independent appraisal of their lots, which Brookfield will accept as a down payment. The value of the lost homes is roughly equal to the cost of the new houses, which start in the mid-$600,000s. Doyle--whose house in Scripps Ranch escaped the fire--said he might sell the scorched lots to custom home builders in the future.

Corky McMillin is concentrating on the 38 families who lost a Scripps Ranch home originally built by the company. The San Diego home builder has opened its archives so homeowners can obtain their construction drawings and floor plans. McMillin and its architects also have offered the free use of any current home plans now being built in its subdivisions.

Other production home builders are negotiating directly with groups of residents or homeowners associations. Tom Noon, president of the California region for D.R. Horton, has met with displaced homeowners, many of whom shared a street or cul-de-sac. Horton may put together a "selection book" of house plans for residents to choose from. "If 30, 40, or 50 families are willing to band together and agree on a single program, we can put out an RFP to several builders and have people in [new] homes by July," said Noon.