Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Southern California Burns!

Well things have finally calmed down a bit here. Our phones have been up and down.

So I'll give you the run down. I'll preface by saying we're all ok. Had some very
close calls, but no injuries.

Sat morning Derek and I are finishing breakfast and doing dishes. Out the kitchen window we see a fire start in Waterman canyon. Happens all the time during the summer. It's about 9:20 in the morning. We were getting ready to leave to go wine tasting in Temecula.

11:15 I told Derek I didn't feel good about leaving. I knew the fire was up in the hills but had a gut feeling we should stay. He agrees, even he said this one feels odd.

11:25 The embers arrive. Scared the holy hell out of me. A piece about 5 inches long and an inch or so wide landed in the drive way and I ran out to stomp it out. It was glowing bright red. Our neighbor is now on his roof hosing it down. It's shake. The road above us (2 streets up) is smoking so bad we can no longer see. I send Laura in to pack and get our face masks.

11:30 The embers are really flying, neighbors roof catches but he's able to stop in time. 6 houses down another roof catches. But we're all on watch and walking up and down the street on patrol. I advise neighbors to get buckets of water and fill them up. Put some in the backyard and some in the front.

11:40 Derek gets dressed in his uniform and decides to head out to do a recon. (he's in law enforcement)

11:50 He comes back "It's out of control and this is bad. I've never seen anything like this. This looks like the beginning of the end"

12:00 My sister comes over, power has just gone out, phones are still on. We decide to head to my folks house and evacuate them. We've called them and told them to pack.

12:10 My sister needs to run to her house, she's forgotten her cell phone. Before we pull up we can see the flames in her backyard. Chris, my brother in law, is in the backyard with a garden hose. He's losing. Behind them is the Wash which the city hasn't done any weed abatement yet on the sides that butt up against my sisters back yard. The fire is rolling down it. The heat was incredible. I see 5 guys up on the wash with shovels and yell at them to get down to me. I yell at the neighbors to grab buckets or even big tupperware and everyone get to the pool. Shannon is running thru her house and throwing things in her car. I send the guys the fence and the gals fill the buckets and run them up. 20 minutes later we finally get the fire out. Chris is sick, he didn't have a mask and has smoke inhalation but we can't stop. We jump into our 2 trucks with all the guys we found and drive down the street and get ahead of the fire. We ran in a guys backyard and yelled "Do you have a pool?!!" He says yes and we took over and did the same for his house and his neighbor. The poor man cried because he thought he was going to lose his house. Out of the blue a man shows up in a water tanker truck driving on the utility road that we are standing on and tossing our buckets of water. He starts spraying the side of the hill. I yelled at him, "Who are you? Where did you come from?" I don't' think he spoke english. Chris said he came clear from Claremont with 6 water tankers to just drive around and help where he could.

1:00ish Shannon, Chris and I are heading up to my mom's house. They have everything packed it's in the garage so we start loading it. I walk up the back of the property and get on the block wall. My heart sinks. I turned and yelled "We have to go and we have to go NOW!". The flames are coming up the hill and I can see the tips. Their neighbors are loading up their car and I ran over and told them get out and now. Shannon and I are in her truck, Chris is behind us in his, and my Mom and Dad are in their SUV with Shannon's kids. We start down the hill but I don't see my folks. I told Shannon to stop and jumped out and ran back up the hill. My mom had gone back in to get her purse. I have never really sworn around my folks but I told them "Get your ass moving we have to get the fuck out of here!!" Mom runs out and gets in the car and I ran back to my sisters car. As we start down the hill side the fire is coming up on our right. It took us about 40 minutes to make a 10 minute trip. I turned to look back and can see the heat shimmers like a road gets on a hot day. Only this time it's not just the road, it's everywhere.

2:00 We're at home. Still no power. Everyone is at my sisters house, Derek and Laura are at our house.

2:15 Derek gets dressed to do another recon.

3:10 Derek gets home and says "In 18 years on the dept I've never been 'scared' until today" Your folks house is there, but everything else is gone.

5:45 Derek gets dressed for another recon.

6:45 He comes back and reports that the house is intact, scorched but there. All of my parents neighbors are burned out except for 2 he believes on the north side of them

Still no power.

8:30 Derek does one final recon and reports the same. He also reports that over 2/3's of north end San Bernardino are gone. He couldn't see the damage before because of the smoke. Derek estimates that over 200 homes have been destroyed.

Needless to say we didn't sleep much that night. Our power came back on Sunday evening, my sister got power back on Monday night. My folks got power back today and their phones. They lost their side patio and some trees.

On Sunday morning when we finally got back up there it was a hard blow. Everything is gray, dusty. Folks are walking around like zombies hoping to find anything at all that might of survived.

Monday - 1500 evacuees are at the San Bernardino airport. By Tuesday that number is up to 2000 and by today it's now at 3500.

So many heroic stories and some very sad ones too. A lot of my co-workers lost their homes.

Today is the first day I've even had time to check email. And last night I was finally able to get into my voice mail. Air quality down here is very very bad. We have to wear masks. My ashma concerns me, but so far no attacks. Laura is still out of school. She can't return till Monday or Tuesday of next week. All schools down here are closed. Food is interesting, what with one grocery store on strike and no fresh vegetables/fruit because the drivers won't deliver, and the other one being over whelmed with folks needing things.

Tonight our mountain community of Lake Arrowhead just lost another 250 homes. I'm almost numb. I was in the Panorama Fire and thought that was huge. That was nothing to this.

That's about it. Thought you might like to know. I think I'll go hit the sack now. Haven't slept much since Sat.