Ten miles

We’re about ten miles from the danger zone, living in the shadow of the fire.

Yesterday, we barbecued at a friend’s house and talked while the kids played. The sky was dark with smoke, weird colors in the sunset. They were dull, metallic grays and browns, not the spectacular reds that sometimes accompanied volcanic activity in Hawaii. We watched the news, and listened as they announced that a few thousand people had been evacuated from outlying suburbs (including one that we had seriously considered when we moved to the city). It sounded serious, but not catastrophic.

We came home, put the kids to bed, and checked the news every once in a while. It was getting worse. The evacuations were up to tens of thousands; a few entire communities were uprooted. This was worrisome. We fell asleep wondering whether the night would bring a respite.

It didn’t. By early morning, large swaths of city near Poway were being evacuated. We dropped the kids off for school; later, the school called and said we should pick them up. They’ve been home since midmorning. My wife’s school canceled today, and my own classes are canceled tomorrow. Many of my students and colleagues and friends are dealing with major upheaval.

Fire fighters have been largely unable to contain the fire for a few reasons. It’s extremely dry right now, creating ideal fire conditions. The San Diego area is crisscrossed with small canyons, and the fire thrives in the dry underbrush. Plus, the Santa Ana winds are blowing from the northeast towards the west and southwest. They’re driving the fire before them; also, they’re creating high-velocity gusts, up to 60 mph, that have prevented firefighters from using aircraft to fight the fires. (Check out this map.)

(On a broader level, the fire is the natural consequence of an urban planning regime that erects new suburbs on the edge of dry desert that would naturally burns every few years in small fires, and then suppresses those kinds of natural burns until there’s enough built-up dry scrub brush that the whole area becomes a tinder box. Instead of regular fires now, we have massive conflagrations twice a decade. The Cedar fire in 2003 killed 14 people and burned hundreds of thousands of acres. This one, with the seasonally appropriate name of the Witch Creek fire, is now expected to exceed the Cedar fire in acres burned, though fortunately there’s only one known fatality so far.)

The forecast isn’t good, either. The winds and dry temperatures are expected to last another day, at least. Hopefully the winds will die down on Wednesday. The National Guard has already been brought in. A few wind-free days could be enough to bring it under control. For now, we’re all at the mercy of the winds.

There’s a strange tension here, on the edge of the shadow of the fire. The sky is eerily dark, like early twilight, though it’s only afternoon. The air smells like smoke; the car is covered in a fine layer of ash.

We’re trying to be ready. We’ve already filled the gas tank and put gallon jugs of water in the back of the car. I went through the house and took pictures of every room. We’re making sure we’ve got clothing ready. And we’re keeping the kids in the house, since air quality outside is so bad. The environment is tense, in no small part because the kids are agitated from being cooped up. Should we make them clean their room? (We don’t know if their room will still be around in a day, do we?)

At the same time, we’re not directly threatened. The actual fire remains miles away. The San Diego Tribune maps the actual fire area. (If it doesn’t show up at first, hit refresh. The site’s getting a lot of traffic.) Meanwhile, I’m at about here on a map.

And so, we wait. We’ll load the car ready to go, tonight, just in case the alarms sound at 2 a.m. And if they don’t, we’ll spend tomorrow at home, still tense, checking the news every few minutes, and trying to keep the kids busy. (Maybe we’ll raid the pantry and put together a care package for the refugees, who number almost a quarter million by now.)

And we’ll hope that by the end of that day, we’ll know when the fires will burn out.

49 comments for “Ten miles

  1. Same thing is happening in Rocky Mountain National Park next door to our community.

    Hyper-aggressive fire prevention has caused densely overgrown pine forests that pretty-much carpet the entire park right now. Instead of the natural open, evenly spaced pine forests with minimal undergrowth that used to cover the Intermountain West, we’ve got dark packed pine forests, with massive undergrowth, that you’d have a hard time even walking through.

    Not only do the warm and dry years we’ve been having cause better fire conditions, they’ve also led to a population explosion of bark beetles. Everywhere you look, you see dead trees. It’s largely decimated the pine population near Brian Head ski resort near Cedar City, and it’s doing the same thing in the park.

    The entire thing is long overdue for a massive forest fire of the sort that Yellowstone saw back in the 1980s.

  2. For many months, I attended City Council meetings for a brand-new bedroom community that’s springing up out of Utah ranchland. When new subdivisions were being discussed (which was constantly), there were always many questions for the city fire chief because the new subdivisions were in fields that used to burn every few years without bothering anyone. The fire chief talked about fire breaks, and the patrols the city fire dept ran regularly to keep tabs on just how dry it was. He also talked about having emergency vegetation that could be planted after a fire because once the vegetation has burned, rain caused a huge risk of mudslides. It was quite the science.

  3. Our stake just had an emergency preparedness seminar, so this potential evacuation is resonating with me. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and the others potentially in danger.

  4. My wife is an emergency preparedness specialist. If you haven’t already, make sure you’ve backed up all of your data (or even better, sent a copy to a friend in another state) and you’ve got paper copies of your critical stuff. And grab a few scrapbooks.

    My sister lives further north from you but says that they’re also way too close for comfort.

  5. I’m living in the Santa Clarita Valley and, as of this afternoon, we have three major fires burning on three sides of the valley. Since I live on the western side near I-5, I was pretty concerned when the community across the I-5, Stevenson Ranch (near Six Flags Magic Mountain) started evacuating this afternoon. All schools were closed today, some are being used as evacuation centers, and all of the schools will be closed again tomorrow. The air is so foul it’s like living in an ashtray. And all last night and today we could hear the water-carrying helicopters flying directly above us. Plus my cats are both freaked out because the smell of smoke is overwhelming.

  6. I just came home from being evacuated. We got a call this morning about 11, to get out immediately. We live in Encinitas, very near Rancho Santa Fe. We were told to go to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but the radio was reporting that the fires were heading that way, so we went to our church to think about what to do, since it was out of the fire zone. The missionaries from all over the county were being evacuated there, and others from the local wards were coming there to figure things out. A member of the ward who brought some food over invited us to her house, so we’ve been there, along with our cats, and another family and their dogs. Eventually our status changed from mandatory to voluntary, and we decided to come back home, since their house is now in voluntary status. It’s been a weird day– never really light, orange glow to the sky, and ash falling, while we listen to the radio and hear which of our friends have now been evacuated. We don’t know if any friends actually lost homes yet, but we have a lot of friends in the area where the fire path has been, and more friends south of us in Carmel Valley are just getting evacuated now.

  7. I feel ready to tackle my emergency preparedness planning. I live in San Diego. Though we’re not being evacuated, I can see the fire burning from my living room window looking out towards the back yard. My daughter is freaked out as she watches this fire burn, convinced that our house will go down in flames. She just asked if Russia was in danger of burning. When I said no, she asked if we could leave for Russia tonight.

  8. our family has evacuated. my aunt and uncle evacuated to my parents’ house, only to have evacuation orders issued there not much later. they anticipated the orders and had already packed the cars and had taken the dogs (seven total!) to a kind kennel who is accepting animals without payment. my uncle managed to find three hotel rooms together at a crummy hotel by the airport, but they’re glad to have found that much. total, i have three aunts, three uncles, four cousins, both parents, and a sister evacuated. good times.

    the cedar fire left many of our friends homeless. we spent weeks raking ashes, looking for anything left for our friends. my parents’ house was spared, thankfully, though their fence burned. everything seems better organized this time, courtesy of a hard lesson learned. there are homes that haven’t even been rebuilt, yet, and some people are still in trailers. it was heartbreaking to survey the cedar fire damage. i sobbed when we drove past a modest rv parked on an empty lot with a big sign that read “firestorm 2003 took our house, but not our spirit.”

    thanks for indulging me. i’m a bag of emotions. stay safe, ka’imi. better to leave the car packed than to risk the alternative.

  9. My brother-in-law reports that my sister and their son have left for his parents; he’s staying at their apartment because of work but he’s ready to evacuate if he has to.

  10. It’s horrible to see these stories on the news. It’s made even more horrible when you find out people you care about are so closely affected. I have a lot of family in the San Diego area, but so far, they all live away enough. But I get on here and see names of people I “know” .. my heart goes out to you all. You will be in my prayers.

  11. I have to add that this is all making the weight of my new calling as emergency prep person for my ward feel that much heaviier. Just last nite, my husband helped me brainstorm potential emergencies for our area. We live less than a mile from the mountains/hills in two different directions. My husband was ready to write that risk off since we have roads and yards as firebreaks, right? Yeah, well, that theory was short-lived. I’m still stunned to read that a fire jumped I-15. Bad weather conditions can make normal assumptions and protocol pretty useless.

  12. My fam in Encinitas got evacuated this morning. The fire is currently a few miles away from their house, they are staying in PB for now. Scary scary, but at least they had plenty of time to pack everything important, take pictures and get far away. Not everyone is that lucky.

  13. With wind, fires easily spot a mile ahead. With winds as hard as California is getting, they’ll spot farther. No fire line will hold.

    I spent most of August at the #1 priority fires in nation (northern Rockies) and was a little stunned by what I saw, even though I saw nothing I didn’t already “knew.” Such things do turn your mind toward preparedness and humility.

    I hope people are taking photos and writing journals. Good literature is something we can always take from trouble, and we need more literature, especially private literature.

  14. fire out west and no water here in the south. we hope you will all be safe. we have lots of room in our home here in tenn so come visit

  15. m&m, i think the emergency prep calling is SO important. we lost power yesterday and it was expected to be out for a day or two. it seemed almost like an adventure because we felt prepared. we were mildly disappointed when the power came on a mere five hours later.

    i keep car kits in my car with emergency supplies and enough food and water for three days each person. we car travel a lot and so the cargo space in my minivan stays regularly stocked with all things emergent. we also have a backpack in the house for each person, also with food and emergency supplies. each year, i think about assembling similar kits for christmas presents, but i always decide not to because some people think it lame. i’ve decided to definitely do it this year.

    also, a reminder for me to burn some extra discs of photos to send out for safekeeping. i’m not sure i’ve done that since our 7mo was born!

    ah, i know this is long. one last thing… the food in our car and 72-hour kits aren’t necessarily healthy and aren’t even things i let my kids eat with any regularity (i’m a mean mom and am super picky about what i bring into the house). i was concerned about wasting the food during rotation, but came up with an idea. we assemble small food packages out of the food we’re rotating out. my husband’s a cop and frequently encounters people who could use a bite to eat. especially during winter, he tries to keep blankets and food on hand while he’s working and this was an easy way for us to help out a brother or sister.

  16. Veritas, Is your family in Encinitas LDS? I probably know them if so. (And maybe even if they’re not.) (you can tell me who they are if you want, at [email protected]) If I were doing this again, I’d have gotten a hotel up toward Oceanside early today, but we really didn’t think it would come so far. We almost evacuated again about 2 hours ago ( one am our time). I’m on the western section of the part of town called Olivenhain, and we could see fires about 5 or 6 miles away, back in the hills, probably in the Knightsbridge subdivision. But since the winds had died down, the flames looked as though they were under control. Later I drove about 2 miles that way to find out what was going on to decide if we needed to leave, and talked to a policeman there who said that it’s only spot fires there, and not too bad. but with the potential to get very bad quickly if the winds come back up. Right now, the winds are eerily calm. We’re not really sure which direction to go, and we figure there are a lot of people right now who really need the shelter space, so so far, we’re at home.

  17. They closed our San Diego office yesterday and today- we are praying for your part of the country. Sounds pretty scary- I hope your kids are dealing with it OK. One of my older daughter’s worst fears is fire…

  18. For all of you affected by the fires and for those of you with family in the area our prayers and thoughts are with you. Here in Virginia we’ve been complaining because of our own drought (we MIGHT be limited in watering our lawns! Heaven forbid.) In northern Georgia they may not have enough drinking water because of the drought but the governor says it’s because the Corps of Engineers is letting precious water storage flow downstream to save fish populations.

    But then we see overwhelming devastation in Southern California like you have described and like we have seen on TV and in the papers and we realize that our problems are few and our burdens are light.

    Stay safe and don’t take chances.

  19. My brother and his family are in Rancho Bernardo. They were evacuated at 5 am yesterday. The fire less than 1/2 mile from their home. He has said he is fine with whatever happens-he is just so grateful that his family is safe and that they got their dog out. Of course his kids think it is like being on vacation since they are in a hotel and not going to school.

    A sister in his ward is a single mom with no transportation. The bishop called and asked if my brother could give them a ride. Due to having so many kids he didn’t have room in his car so he went and gave them his families second car to use so she could get where she needed to go. The emergency system in their ward worked very well to ensure the ward members were safe (ok, and I am really proud that my brother is such a good man-they could have brought more with them when they evacuated but recognized her need was far greater).

    Another one of my friends has another fire near her home. They worked really hard for their kids to feel safe while they packed, etc. They made cookies to help her kids feel like everything is safe. When they could see the fire from their window their 5 year old daughter asked if they could go make smores!

  20. I have only one kid at home, and he’s sixteen, but it was hard on him. He kept getting text messages from friends yesterday about who was evacuated, and where– very weird way to get the news, friend by friend, hearing what neighborhoods were going down.

  21. Do you have something irreplaceable in your car? My parents were evacuated at 4:30 yesterday morning, and by 2:00, they learned that their house had burned down. There was no way the fire was going to get to it (and it was 4:30 in the morning), so they didn’t grab any pictures, journals, etc. Just them, their 72-hour kit (with blankets, pillows, MREs, and a few clothes), and the dogs. Which, ultimately, is all that matters. But it was their home of 18 years, so there was a fair amount of irreplaceable stuff there; I know my mom wishes she’d spent 5 more minutes (which they may or may not have had) to grab her journals, or photos, or computer, or something.

    Best to you and your family; stay safe, and good luck. We’re praying in New York (and I’m wishing I were there).

  22. In addition to the fires in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, there is a 15,800-acre fire in Orange County that has burned its way up to a number of residential communities. See map here: http://www.ocfa.org/ocfamain.asp?pgn1=3

    In times like these, we food-and-water-storing Mormons don’t look so kooky after all . . .

  23. m & m,

    You may want to contact your local authorities (civil, not church) and see what their thoughts are on likely disaster scenarios. I say that because once when we lived in CA, our bishop did that and then polled the ward as to what was most likely. The ward threw out at least 6 scenarios and the bishop said, “nope” to each one. Everyone forgot that the railroad tracks (that ran right next to our student housing!) carried radioactive material.

  24. Part of our stake is impacted by evacuations from the Fallbrook Fire. Many people are camping in their RV’s at the WalMart by our house in Oceanside.

    I’m watching news about the evacuation of Pomerado Hospital in Rancho Bernardo, because I know that their are two buildings of LDS Rancho Penasquitos Stake located about a block away from there.

    The sky overhead is solid brown and the sun is a bright red today.

  25. My car’s packed with the most important irreplaceable stuff, and we’re still not feeling totally out of the woods yet. Our fire hotline just said that we shouldn’t leave our house, unless we want to. Meaning that they think we’re safe, but they dont want to be liable for it.

  26. “I’m on the western section of the part of town called Olivenhain, and we could see fires about 5 or 6 miles away”

    You are most likely in their ward then (they and my 13 yr old sister are in the Olivenhein ward). I don’t want to say who they are though…hehe. My sister lives in Ocean Beach so they thought it would be better to just go stay at her house until its over. I’m glad you are on here giving updates because that lets me know whether their house is still safe or not – I have a lot of stuff still in their garage I would rather not burn :)

  27. OK so be all secretive :) , I’m not in the Olivenhain ward, since the ward boundaries are rather byzantine, but I’m in a little corner of another ward which juts up into that ward, and I used to know most of the folks in that ward from the tortuous time I was in charge of Cub Scouts for the four wards that used to share the building on Lake Street. I go to the Lake Street building, even though I’m closer to the one where the Olivenhain ward meets.

  28. Oh, Veritas, right now there is not any fire in Olivenhain that I know of, but area around Lake Hodges is burning hard again. There is no wind here, so I’m hoping it’s not going to make it back down here. There were “spot fires” in Olivenhain last night, but I haven’t heard of any houses actually burning. The closest serious fires have been near the Bridges in Rancho Santa Fe, which is only 2 miles or so from us as the crow flies. We hear they are fighting that hard because if it gets down the Escondido Creek bed there it will easily come all the way down to the more compact developments in Encinitas, including my house, which not nearly as far as I would like from that creek. We found out that houses only half a block from us did not get the mandatory evacuation call that we did yesterday, so we’re feeling somewhat less worried about being in the zone. I think all of Encinitas east of RSF road is still under mandatory evacuation.

  29. I like being anonymous :) I used to attend church with them during the summers when all those wards were sharing the Lake street building and before the Olivehain ward was formed and they had to meet at godawful times. It was horrbile, but I like that building better. They can walk to church now though, so, thats nice.

    They live right overlooking RSF road basicly…they considered going home but my sisters boyfriend is a firefighter in San Diego and he said even if you aren’t under mandatory evac it makes their job so much easier if everyone just stays away until its over.

  30. makakona, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love the way you are rotating your 72-hour-kit stuff.

    Julie, thanks for the comment. Talking to city reps is something I’m really concerned about and have already started doing, Legally, civil leaders are the ones responsible for city members’ safety. There is a real lack of coordination at this point, so that is one of my goals…to see if we can get past that. It’s just one of the reasons why I feel so overwhelmed…because it isn’t just about having good information. This job requires a LOT of coordination of lots of ideas from different people with different (strong) opinions.

    Not to mention the fact that there are just so many different scenarios that demand different responses from individuals and the ward/stake and city.

  31. Kaimi, best of luck with the next few days. Hopefully the winds will die down and containment will happen.
    We’ve been experiencing disaster-level flooding. Can’t anyone catch a break?

  32. “The San Diego Tribune maps the actual fire area.”

    Greetings from a resident in the actual fire area! I live in the northern part of 4S Ranch in the red zone of that map. But my neighborhood is reportedly untouched, so the firefighters did a heroic job. I expect they’ll let us return home tomorrow.

  33. My parents are back at home now and they said in their neck of the woods at least the wind has totally died down, so hopefully they will be able to get all the fires contained now.

  34. I live in the Rancho Santa Fe Vista neighborhood so probably right close to your parents. Veritas– but so far can’t figure out who they are from your info. :) Right now there’s only a bit of worry that the fires will pick up if the wind comes back. There is a fire in the Harmony Grove area, but it’s just small, and moving slow. Will probably stay that way if the winds stay calm.

  35. I was born in San Diego and we were in the Spring Valley stake when I was a kid (we lived in Encanto). Then we moved up the coast to Oxnard when I was in Jr. High and High School. The fires bring back memories of my childhood; it seems like every few years the Santa Anas would manage to whip up some pretty fierce fires. It does seem like they’ve been affecting people much more now than they used to. I hope everyone is OK.

  36. This is so weird, and shows just how localized these disasters can be. My wife, our youngest son, and I were there in San Diego Friday through Tuesday morning. We were staying at a hotel in Mission Valley, so were removed from the fires and most of the smoke, and not impacted. We have a nephew in San Marcos who is under warning to evacuate, and another son’s in-laws are farther north in San Marcos (twin Oaks area), and had not been evacuated yet. Our hotel was mobbed Monday afternoon as the numbers of evacuees started to get to more than 250,000. The smoke became evident even overnight Monday night in our hotel room.

    When we flew out yesterday morning at 6:30 AM, our flight was only about 1/3 full, probably due to many cancellations of business trips and vacations, and the view of the smoke was astounding. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you affected by this.

  37. Latest update on LDS Church in the wildfire zone

    Church Responds to California Wildfires

    With fires raging in southern California, the Church has reported as of Tuesday afternoon:

    All missionaries are safe.
    Hundreds of members have opened their homes to give refuge to evacuee families.
    Twelve meetinghouses are being used as temporary shelters. In several locations, occupants have been moved from one meetinghouse to another as mandatory evacuation areas have expanded.
    Representatives from LDS Family Services are working with local priesthood leaders to provide counseling.
    Church Property
    Two smaller buildings at the Church’s Camp Hinckley recreation site near Lake Arrowhead have been destroyed.

    Church Response

    Four truckloads of relief supplies, including food, water, blankets, cots, and hygiene kits have been provided to evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium, the Del Mar Fairgrounds, and other evacuee shelters.
    Priesthood leaders are working with local officials to provide requested supplies and coordinate volunteers.
    Relief supplies are being provided from local bishops’ storehouses.
    Full-time missionaries are providing assistance at several evacuee locations.

  38. This is like a flashback. My eyes are teary and I’m breathing hard. God bless you all. Stay safe. Just go to San Francisco for a long weekend or something. That’s what credit cards are for.

  39. Full-time missionaries are providing assistance at several evacuee locations.
    If you get BBC America, you can see them on tonight’s news (7 p.m. and repeated later, I think…). There was a long “talking head” with a reporter at a shelter, and in the background were 8-10 elders moving supplies and what not. Some were in shirts and ties, and the others were in matching yellow t-shirts with nametags.

  40. I have at least two friends in SoCal (Santa Clarita) that stand a decent chance of evacuating, plus nearly everyone I’m related to on my mother’s side of the family lives in San Diego. I’m not sure whether I hate the frustration of being 3000 miles away and watching it on CNN, or the frustration (from 2003) of living in Long Beach, waking up to find an inch of ash on my car, working at Disneyland with a face mask on, and still not being able to actually help anyone (and ironically sitting at home every night and watching it on CNN,) more.

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