Sunday, October 26, 2003

San Diego Fire Storm Diary

The following post is the intact diary creted during the October 2003 fire storms in San Digeo county.

Oct 26, 03 - 3:01 PM

It's quite weird here today with these fires raging all around. High and rapidly shifting winds are making things move very quickly. Right now the fires are to the east and the south of us by about 5-8 miles (as the crow flies). The northerly fires are about 15 miles above us and don't seem to be moving this way. The sky is full of dramatic looking smoke billows. Our friends are all safe though one set of friends had to move their horses out in advance of their stables burning to the ground. We'll keep in touch throughout the day as much as we can.

Oct 26, 03 - 4:18 PM

Our friends about five miles to the south had to evacuate their home. I went down there to help them and ended up driving one of their cars and a couple of their pets back to our house while they went to locate their horses which had been moved from their stables after the fire roared through the stables. From their house, the smoke was heavy with lots of ash in the air. I could also see flames along the nearby ridge line. Hopefully their house will be OK.

As I came back home to the Trails, I could see huge smoke plumes billowing in the eastern Poway area and the central eastern Escondido area. As the crow flies, both areas are only a couple of miles from our own home. Luckily, the winds have calmed for the moment so hopefully the fire's tract will slow. As sunset arrives it will get tougher to figure out how close things are in advance of needing to move if it were to come to that.

So far, more than 100,000 acres have burned in San Diego alone. Combined with the fires in Riverside county, this is one huge firestorm whipping through Southern California.


Oct 26, 03 - 5:16 PM

The airports have been closed. San Diego because the air traffic control towers were shut down (they're in Miramar where the fire was quite heavy) the others are closed due to smoke, ash and visibility.

San Diego's mayor is calling for the schools to be closed tomorrow. Additionally, they are asking all employers to not open and they've asked the NFL to postpone Monday's night Chargers game. The idea is to keep everyone off the roads so emergency equipment can get around adequately.

The Scripps Ranch area has lost over 150 homes to the fire and Tierrasanta another dozen or so. I haven't heard of counts in other areas but the fierceness of the flames means many structures have been lost.

Luckily for us the winds have been quiet for the past year and the ash-fall has slowed where we live.




Oct 26, 03 - 8:32 PM

As an update to my last note ... the airport are open again though on very limited flight schedules. Southwest has cancelled all flights in and out of San Diego and one of the carriers is diverting everything to Phoenix so nothing is easy air wise.

Near us the Poway area is really blazing. They've reported more than 30 homes already engulfed and more surely to go over night. As long as the winds are light enough, progress can be made. Hopefully, the current calm will get us through the night.

The ash fall the past hour has really picked up again. Fire is truly an amazing beast. I made a run over to the office to pick up some paperwork and the view from Sony's Point building was one of an eastern ring of fire through about a 60 degree arc. Seeing it in the night sky was breathtaking and scary at the same time.


Oct 26, 03 - 11:56 PM

We're coming up on midnight and all appears quiet. The winds are nil and the ash fall as stopped. The orange glows in the sky are mostly gone. Hopefully the county is through the worst. Daylight will tell.


Oct 27, 03 - 7:35 AM

About 2:30 this morning, I got up and took a drive. From the vantage point of the Sony Point building, I could see that the both Escondido fire and the Poway fires were both much quieter than they were earlier. The fall of ash was like a light snow storm but the winds remained calm.

I drove down to our friends place and while their area was still full of smoke and the scent of fire, the homes all seemed to be OK. I'm sure they'll be allowed back in today. I'm not sure what the status is with regards to their horses, but they left them last night in an area by the Wild Animal park that seemed it would be safe.

I'll post another update after the news conferences scheduled for this morning.


Oct 27, 03 - 8:41 AM

While the fires are still burning, the status feels much less dramatic than yesterday. We're still seeing some ash fall in our home's area and for the first time, the smell of burning wood/brush is in the air here. However, things feel less dangerous than before.

In the county, the fires are still burning and there is not a perimeter line around any of the burning areas. The officials are thinking that the three local fires will likely burn into one single fire and that's their best bet for being able to achieve containment. Of the 75 fires burning throughout the state of California, the northern San Diego fire called the Paradise Fire is ranked at the top of the state's list for dangerousness. Right now, the southern boundary of the Paradise fire is about 5 miles north of us though its progress southward seems to be halted for the moment.

In the county, some 400 homes and about a dozen lives have been lost so far. The fires have burned through some 140,000 some acres so far and one commentator has professed that makes the burn area larger than the city of Chicago. Good perspective if accurate.

The highways are largely open once again but the Mayor is again urging people to stay off the roads and in at home to keep the roads clear for emergency personnel and equipment movements.

At the moment, the winds in our area are very light. To the east, the winds are gusty up again so needless to say, we're all watching things still. By the way, yesterday, the humidity level at our house got down to 16%. Today it's up to 25% at the moment. Last week, it was constantly in the 50-55% range.

I'll post again later.


Oct 27, 03 - 2:20 PM

Finally this afternoon the smoke and smells seem to be clearing. The fire to the immediate north of us stalled in its southward progression and moved back north toward less populous areas. The fire to our immediate south is still burning though its now more a matter of watching for flare-ups than anything of more true danger at the moment. Thankfully the winds never materialized in our area as had been feared and so progress was made in getting ahead of these things. The officials are quite cautious, as you might imagine, but even their messages are turning more positives. The schools will still be closed tomorrow but I'm betting most businesses will be back to work unless things were to change dramatically overnight. Here's hoping San Diego is through the most dangerous of this whole event!


Oct 27, 03 - 9:06 PM

Where we live, things are calm and the skies are clearing. Once again, it feels like paradise. However, the fires are still raging in San Diego.

Authorities are now reporting more than 400 homes lost in San Diego and the acreage burned count now exceeds 150k acres in San Diego. More than a dozen folks have lost their lives so far. Luckily for all, the winds are cooperating and hopefully will remain calm. Tomorrow we'll get a much better view and understanding of the true status.

Before I close for the night, I thought I'd share a note from a friend and fellow employee who lives just a few miles to the east of us. His battle has been far more fearsome than ours and his words convey both his tenacity and gratefulness.

"It has been a harrowing and life changing two days. So far, thank God, we have been spared but not by much. I cannot explain the emotions that pass as you have to choose a truckload that represents everything you’ve spent your whole life accumulating, accomplishing or earning. This also matches the same feelings knowing that your home soon may no longer exist. We had everything gathered to evacuate. The fire was getting close and we lost both phone and power (2 pm Sunday) yet we held fast. I thought Sunday was bad, but that night was worse and the morning went from bad to very bad. It then abated with the change of winds. That is bittersweet, since the breezes that saved us so far have killed and destroyed others. This evening as I write this, it seems stable though I have no idea what is happening behind me on Mt. Woodson. My ham radio (until my handheld batteries gave out last night) really helped since we could communicate what we could see to each other to provide an assessment of the conditions. I hope that Joe Mitchell’s home is standing. I’ve talked to friend that lives near him and houses were lost, yet some saved.

The radio lies about what is really happening and the CDF has really botched the airborne activity. Ramona is still burning badly and is in danger of being encircled, but nobody is reporting this. They could have stopped it when it started. I saw the fire start Saturday evening at 6pm as we were going down our road to go to Escondido. When we got back at 10:30pm, it had grown and by midnight it was huge because the Santa Ana winds were building. It covered 90 degrees of my view of horizon, as I looked towards the mountains. At 3am, it covered 180 degrees of my view.

The next day (Sunday) it looked like a scene from Dante’s inferno. The CDF had only the small S2s working the massive fire. The DC4, usually stationed here, was nowhere to be seen. From my past employment with the state, I know that there are Air guard planes with fire suppression capabilities stationed at Van Nuys and Sunnyvale. They are also in Arizona as well. They could have been here in 2 hours.

This evening things quieted to the point that I dug out my generator to provide some light and the power to send this email via a wireless link. I just found my pager and I want to thank everyone for their kind messages. I will not be into work on Tuesday and assuming that things calm down, I’ll go to Boston as planned Wednesday, but it really depends on what happens Tuesday. I have no idea when power or landline will be restored and I am conserving cell batteries.

I had the great fortune to go to a red cross presentation last month on wildfire safety. They are right with everything they say. If you have a chance, get their materials and FOLLOW them.

God bless us all."


Oct 28, 03 - 7:15 AM

This morning the smell of smoke remains and our normally blue sky is blocked from view due to high, overhead smoke. The homes lost count now numbers north of 500 and the acreage burn seems to be more than 250k acres. However, as more news reporting becomes available, there's more confusion as to exactly what the scope of the devastation has been.

Several key roadways, almost all schools, and many businesses are closed yet again. Near us the fire around Poway & Ramona continues to burn but progress is being made.

The weather, which on Sunday was a dry, windy devil, is cooperating with the winds remaining calm and humidity outside climbing to 50% from the below 20% ratings on the weekend.

I'm planning to head to the office today and begin the process of understanding how friends and co-workers have been impacted.

If you've been following this series of updates and wish to make a donation to the San Diego area Red Cross to help out, please know that any donations you make via the DONATION button on the lower, left hand side of the www.gudorf.net home page will be forwarded directly and in total to the San Diego Red Cross.



Oct 28, 03 - 10:25 AM

Hi all. Well the Sony offices are closing down due to poor air quality. The smoke and ash are still bad in the Rancho Bernardo area where are offices sit.

The Cedar Fire, the one that did perhaps the most damage has scorched 206,664 acres and destroyed 534 homes and 148 vehicles, according to the California Department of Forestry. The closest it came to our house was about 2 miles (as the crow flies) where Poway borders Rancho Bernardo.

The Paradise Fire, which is the fire to the north of us and has come as close as about 3 miles (as the crow flies) has scorched 30,000 acres and was 15 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry. Full containment is not expected until this Saturday.


The Otay Fire, burning along the U.S. and Mexico border, has charred more than 45,000 acres in the South Bay, according to the CDF and still seems to be burning strong. There is lots of open space in that particular areas so bets are it will burn for a long time.

Lastly, a wildfire that started last week on Camp Pendleton in the North County was 75 percent contained as of last night. This fire has not been much of an issue this weekend other than the fact that it has diverted some resources.

In total, more than 900 homes throughout the county were listed as lost as a result of the fires.


Oct 28, 03 - 8:21 PM

Today, the smoke hung heavily in the air throughout the San Diego area. Our immediate area was less threatened however as a mild off-shore air flow served to push the fires generally eastward.

While that was a positive for the Rancho Bernardo area, it means that the fire is bearing down on the picturesque mountain town of Julian this evening. After Julian the mountains dive for the desert so if the fire hits Julian it won't have anywhere else to go afterward (at least not any further to the east).

The other large area of activity today was the Alpine area including most of the south-eastern part of San Diego county.

It's been calculated that the San Diego fires collectively burned at a rate of 6,000 acres per hour for the 36 hours from Sunday. The devastation that goes along with that burn rate is simply unbelievable! I've been watching lots of local news so I'm not sure how the nationals are treating this story but whatever you're seeing nationally, I'm betting the reality is far worse than you can imagine. Thousands upon thousands of people are displaced and more than 1,000 homes have been lost so far.

I've posted a few new links to maps and such so you can see the fire pathways (as well as where they are in relationship to us in Rancho Bernardo) and I've also posted links to heartbreaking photos from those who are slowly returning to burned out homes.

Tonight's fire stand will hopefully protect the town of Julian and signal the beginning of containment for that fire. The Alpine area fire however will probably continue burning essentially unchecked for quite some time to come. If the weather keeps cooperating and as the fire resources finally start flooding back to San Diego (from serving up north) hopefully things will look and feel much better by week's end.

Until then, all of your prayers and thoughts as to the San Diegans displaced by this situation are appreciated. As mentioned in an earlier post, any donations made to the donation button on the left hand side of the www.gudorf.net site will be forwarded to the San Diego American Red Cross specifically for these victims.

I'll add more updates on Wednesday. Know that I'm thankful for all our family and friends.



Oct 29, 03 - 6:06 AM

Things seem a bit better this morning, at least in our area.

The Cedar and Paradise fires (which were within a few miles of our house to the east and north) spent the evening burning eastward. Currently, the fire is within a 1/4 mile of the town of Julian in the mountains (about 45 minutes away from us). Those of you who have visited us may recall that Julian is the quaint little town known for its apple pies and antique stores.

In total, the acreage burned by the three San Diego fires now exceed 300,000 acres with more than 1,200 homes lost and it's not done yet. The Cedar fire alone has been deemed the largest fire ever in California's history. As of this morning they claim the Cedar fire is only 10% contained and won't be 100% contained until mid-November. The active fire line for the Cedar fire is 45 miles long.

The Paradise fire is about 20% contained and they are now predicting 100% containment by the 1st of November. There is still the danger of both of these fires merging into a single fire ... the weather today will largely determine this outcome.

The better news is that the fire to the south and east, the Otay fire, seems to be nearly contained after burning more than 46k acres.

Schools are still closed though businesses are trying to re-open except for in those areas where the air quality is just too bad. Outside our house, the smell of smoke is still strong though I believe it will be better than yesterday.

I'll post later today as to any updates.


Oct 29, 03 - 8:14 PM

Well, tonight marks the end of day four for these horrendous fires. In many ways it seems as if they have been raging for weeks. Many folks, even those totally intact such as us, are mentally exhausted from the drama of these events. At the same time, there is much relief (and some form of guilt) that we were not directly impacted. Often times, these fires seemed to choose their victims in totally random manners. "It could have been us" has been muttered by many.

Air quality is still rated "unhealthy" although most folks and businesses in the county made strong attempts to approximate normal activities today. The sky in our immediate area actually began to clear today and we saw partially blue skies for the first time since this all began.

Currently about 5,000 firefighters are fully on duty with 12 helicopters and 13 air tankers being added to the resource mix. Sure wish the air support could have been on hand Sunday! One valiant firefighter died near Julian today and several more were injured when a sudden shift of direction caught them by surprise.

Throughout the day today the fires moved mostly eastward. And while the Pendleton and Otay fires are now 100% contained the Cedar and Paradise fires remained quite wild with each well less than 20% contained. Fire officials still fear an eventual merger of the two blazes which so far are about five miles apart as of Wednesday evening.

Currently, the cities of San Diego, Poway, and Escondido are out of harm's way. Hard hit Ramona however was evacuated yet again tonight due to shifting winds.

The Cedar fire has now burned over 1,500 homes and more than 250k acres while the Paradise fire has consumed more than 100 homes and 40k acres. In total, the four San Diego fires have consumed about 350k acres and more than 2,000 homes and buildings. The devastation is just unbelievable and hard to cope with as you look out the window each day at the smoke billowing across normally blue skies.

The worry tonight is the forecast for winds due to gust up to 45 MPH and in doing so to push the fire to the north east on a continuing march of destruction.

If I'm sounding negative, forgive me. All this destruction in just San Diego alone still doesn't include the fires north of LA in Simi Valley nor the San Bernadino Mountain fires raging about 1.5 hours to the north. It's just heartbreaking.

Good night and God bless.



Oct 30, 03 - 8:05 AM

Day 5 dawns with winds continuing to gust to 50 MPH in the mountains near Julian where the fight is concentrated. The larger Cedar fire is still only 15% contained and the Paradise fire at just 20%. There is still the fear that Paradise fire will burn down from the north to merge with the Cedar fire burning up from the south with both converging in the Ramona area. In total, there is a 100 mile long open fire line between the two.

If there's a plus to the winds it is that the humidity is up nicely and there are hopes of small rain showers but the information flows are looking for any positive news to report after so much destruction. In spite of all of our technology, San Diegans are basically in the hands of nature and God.



Oct 30, 03 - 8:09 AM

One more note.... anyone wishing to donate to the cause as people prepare to face the recovery and rebuild process, please know that any donations made to the "DONATION" button on the left hand side of the www.gudorf.net HOME page will be forward in total to the San Diego Red Cross. If you'd like to donate to them directly, the local web site is http://www.sdarc.org/.

The task facing those who lost everything is so overwhelming ... all possible help will be appreciated. Our family and friends are so blessed, we can only look to see where and how we can help.



Oct 30, 03 - 7:59 PM

For tonight's update, please know that things are improving for San Diego. We even received scattered rain showers throughout the county today; the first rain in our area since May. I know the winter's heavier rains will bring their own problems ala mudslides on the fire scorched hills and such but at the moment, a little rain not only helps the firefighters but it helps to clean the air of the ash we've been breathing since Sunday. Thank you Lord!

The local paper is reporting that 54 homes were lost in Poway. This is the town bordering Rancho Bernardo (our home) where the firestorm came as close as about 2 miles to us.

For other details, I'm posting the following clipping from the Union Tribune. This recap of the latest fire department briefing is full of good detail.

"As firefighters mourn a colleague there are signs that the monster's back is almost broken!

For reeling San Diegans there is good news tonight from County Sheriff Bill Kolender: "We are beginning to move from the evacuation mode to the recovery mode, in the most serious fire to hit the state of California."

With a pause, during a 5 p.m. county news conference, Kolender delivered the words residents have been longing to hear since early Sunday: "We are making progress."

Until today the news had been tragic, threatening, filled with foreboding. Moist and cooler air, dedicated ground forces supported by aerial attacks and a massive resistant fire that seems to be losing momentum “at last” gave impetus to the sheriff's comments.

Tonight, County supervisor Greg Cox said, the Cedar Fire is 38 percent contained and the Paradise Fire is 25 percent under control.

There are still evacuation areas, specifically Julian, Santa Ysabel, Palomar Mountain, La Jolla Reservation, Cuyamaca, Guatay, Pine Valley and Lake Henshaw. The fires are no longer regarded as a threat to Ramona, Julian, Lakeside or Descanso.

Sheriff Kolender says that nearly all reports of suspected looting have been unfounded. The sole arrest has been a 26-year-old male in Lakeside who was caught allegedly rooting about in burned out shells of houses.

The losses are still staggering: 1,688 structures lost so far in the Cedar Fire and 117 lost in Paradise. Gox put the single-family home damage estimate at $700 million and rising. The number of fire-related deaths remains at 16 but is almost certain to go up, he said.

Six people have bee reported missing within the fire zones.

There are still about 22,000 residences without electricity but SDG&E hopes that number will drop to 8,000 sometime Saturday when power is restored to Alpine. To date, power has been restored to 83,000 customers, says SDG&E's Steve Davis.

He said that the power company has lost 1,500 poles to fire -- an average one-year supply for the utility. Also, 17 major transmission lines were taken down by fire.

There are currently 1,000 utility personnel working in the field, many from Northern California, Davis said.

One last piece of good news for the county, the state has agreed to pick up its share of the funds that are needed to match the federal emergency funding flowing into the county. That could mean millions of dollars that will be re-channeled to other recovery efforts.

Meanwhile, earlier today firefighters paused for a moment of silence and wore black bands over their badges today in memory of a fallen colleague as they continued their struggle against two out-of-control wildfires.

Light fog and drizzle aided the battle to keep the flames away from the tinder-dry flanks of Palomar Mountain and the core of the mountain community of Julian, near where a four-man crew from Novato was overtaken Tuesday.

All of California mourned firefighter Steven Rucker and his three injured colleagues from the Novato Fire Protection District, Gov. Gray Davis said at a Kearny Mesa news conference.

"It is never easy when you lose a firefighter," Davis said during a noon news conference. "They are a band of brothers, they stick together and they do the job."

Some 12,600 firefighters are fighting Southern California's wildfires, Davis said.

"They are standing up to the worst of mother nature and, in so doing, they represent California's very best," Davis said.

"We will never forget these firefighters. We will never forget these people who stood up to Mother Nature's fury to defend our homes, our businesses, our lives."

About 4,000 firefighters on Wednesday continued to battle San Diego County's Cedar and Paradise fires, now in their fifth day.

The lines of the 56,000-acre Paradise Fire remained fairly static at the base of Palomar Mountain throughout the morning and into the afternoon.

The 272,318-acre Cedar Fire was burning slowly eastward from the Julian area toward Mount Laguna.

Under threat and fiercely defending by hundreds of fire crews for nearly two days, central Julian remained largely unscathed Thursday afternoon after cool, calm weather gave firefighters a chance to strengthen fire lines.

"The fire is afraid of us in Julian," California Department of Forestry spokesman Dave Wheeler said. "We're ready for it there."

Hundreds of rural homes in the mountain communities of Cuyamaca, Harrison Park, Pine Hills, Descanso, Wynola and the outskirts of Julian were destroyed Tuesday and Wednesday as the Cedar Fire spread.

It was during that battle that Rucker was killed and three fellow Northern California firefighters were overcome by a fast-moving wall of flame as they tried to protect an outlying home near Wynola.

Novato fire Capt. Doug McDonald, who was burned over 18 percent of his body, remained hospitalized today at the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.

Engineer Shawn Kreps and firefighter/paramedic Barrett Smith were treated for multiple second-degree burns and were expected to be released today.

More than $500 million in property, including more than 1,500 homes, have been destroyed in San Diego County since the two fires began Saturday and early Sunday.

The county's death toll stood at 16: The firefighter and 15 residents who had been unable to flee the advancing smoke and flames.

Two other county fires were fully contained by Wednesday morning and no longer threatened lives or property.

The Otay Fire had charred 45,000 acres along the U.S.-Mexico border.

A wildfire that started last week on Camp Pendleton in the North County was fully contained Tuesday.

Air quality was improving somewhat in much of the county, but public schools will remain closed until Monday."




Oct 31, 03 - 8:42 PM

Well, it's Friday evening on Halloween and the news on the fires is the best yet since Sunday.

The good news is that with the cooperation of the weather (lots of moisture), firefighters now have the Cedar fire (the largest in California's history) 65% contained and the Paradise fire 30% contained. The Pendleton and Otay fires are 100% contained already.

The sad news is that county-wide, the burned acreage toll is nearing 400,000 with more than 2,000 homes totally destroyed. As a side note, more than 1,700 utility poles and more than 300 miles of electric wire have been destroyed leaving some 22,000 homes without electric still.

The most heart-warming news though is that the charitable relief efforts are well underway. A popular radio personality team (Cheryl's favorite) raised more than $1.25 million from listeners who drove up and made donations during their 4 hour show this morning. Similar charitable drives are underway as well with folks from all over coming to the aid of San Diego. By the way, visitors to Gudorf.Net have donated $925 via our HOME page "Make a Donation" button. I'll keep everyone posted as/if this amount grows and we'll find a matching program to make our collective impact even larger.

In closing, this morning, I rose early and drove through several areas of the Cedar fire burn nearest our home. To see blackened hillsides stretching out on all sides was truly a humbling site. This fire moved so fast and furiously it's a wonder anything survived and yet I saw plenty of homes where all the surrounding ground was burned black and yet the home was untouched. The path of the fire was so driven by the wind and terrain that it must have been only by the grace of God that any homes were saved; especially in the early days when so few firefighters were available.

I'll close this string of forum messages and move on to other topics once again. But thank you for following these writings with me. I've found it quite therapeutic to write the news tidbits and my own feelings of the past week and to share them with you.

God bless us all.


Nov 3, 03 - 9:12 AM

Folks,

This note which I received this morning from one of the people on my team is so powerful, I thought I'd share it with all.


Hello,

Rather than repeat our tale umpteen times I thought I'd send out an email to some of you, which you should feel free to forward to anyone not on the list. I'll need to be working tomorrow.

I apologize for being out of pocket for so long and worrying you, but the phones were not working and out in Borrego even cell phone reception was spotty. Thanks to Jim for covering for CM in my and Tatiana's absence.

To summarize briefly: Yes my house is still standing, though utilities are still out and will be for some time. We may have water again soon. Every one of our nearest neighbors was burned out. Our house survived because my wife was a fanatic for fire preparedness, and we invested heavily in clearing, boxing in eaves, and perhaps most importantly, an external sprinkler system. She & I studied videotapes of the Fallbrook fire to understand what exactly causes some houses to burn, and I discussed the situation with a retired CDF fire captain who lives on our street (he unfortunately lost his house). It became apparent that if you could protect your house against direct flame by proper siting and clearing, then the greatest threat to it were the innumerable embers carried by the Santa Ana winds. I designed the system specifically to douse burning embers, and to actually use wind to distribute the spray onto the roof, siding, and eaves. We finished putting in this system last year, though it had one key flaw: The pump that drives the sprayers won't work once power is cut, as it typically is when a fire sweeps through. We finished installing the backup generator on Friday (the day before the fires began!). I told the generator guy that I'd test it during the weekend and let him know how it went. It got quite a test.

We can corroborate Lee's account of the spread of the fire and CDF's incompetence in suppressing it, both in the first two hours of the fire and later in the day on Sunday. We saw it spread from north of Ramona down to Muth Valley, south of San Vincente reservoir, by 3 a.m. We saw it crest over Barona casino at around 2 a.m., and descend into the valley. We knew that if it made it past the casino and Wildcat Canyon we were doomed. When 100 foot flames appeared on the crest above our own valley we knew we had to go. We finished packing, turned on our sprayers and evacuated at 4 a.m., and for the next two days we assumed that our house had burned. Our preparations seemed paltry compared to the sheer magnitude of what was baring down on us.

Not one fire engine ever came to our neighborhood, nor was a general evacuation order given. If we were not a close knit community many would have died. We made many calls, were called by many. Everybody in our neighborhood escaped alive. Some neighbors took actions that saved the core of our community, and many homes are still standing because of their bravery. Still, many homes were lost.

After talking it over some, we went to the house of a friend who lives above the airport. From there, we could see how massive the fire was, which now included the Valley Center fire burning behind us, and how the CDF was flying only two rinky-dink bombers against it. The fear of encirclement mentioned by Lee was a real threat. The scale of the fire was so much larger than anything thrown at it that it was clear that it would just continue to grow until the weather changed or all the fuel was consumed - the fuel being most of San Diego county. Rather than run from place to place, we elected to go where there was no fuel - out to Borrego. Skirting the fire, we went off to the desert.

In Borrego, the power was mostly off until Wednesday. The same with phone service. Our stay was pleasant, though (until the smoke came in on Wednesday), and we were accompanied by other couples who also thought their homes were lost. Tuesday, though, people were going back into the burned neighborhoods, and all of us found to our great relief and astonishment that our houses were still standing. By Wednesday, though, the return routes were blocked by the Julian fire. We did an end run around it on Thursday, heading southeast to Imperial County and returning on I8. We moved into a hotel in Poway and wasted no time in going back into our neighborhood.

It is totally devastated. The Mussey Grade area has a great diversity of economic strata, and there are people there who have literally lost everything. Many of our friends lost their homes. It's a hard thing to see, and we'll be seeing it every day for a long time. It is a strong community, though, and everyone promises that they will rebuild and start over. I hope so. Sitting in Borrego, we did not so much mind losing the house, but the loss of the neighborhood and beautiful surroundings was very sad to us.

We may be moving back within the next couple of days. The house is operating on impulse engines. We have generator-supplied power, a new water line being put in, a new cell phone,
and 4000 gallons of trucked-in water of dubious heritage. Should suffice to wash off some ash but I'm not sure it’s safe to drink. We are lucky, I guess. The people who lost more are going to need our patience and support. Please be free in giving both.


Nov 24, 03 - 9:07 AM

Hey everyone!

This weekend, we had a mild Santa Ana condition. Winds and dry air served to whip up both the Cedar and Paradise fires that did so much damage last month and are still burning albeit in out of the way places and under more or less firefighter control.

The winds kicked up lots of ash and actually prompted several people to call into officials with worry of another fire as they saw the ash falling and assumed it was from a fresh burn. We could see the ash floating in the pool ... it was a constant layer all away across the surface though it cleaned up easily enough.

With all that said, we have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving week and our heart goes out to all those who lost their homes and more during the firestorm.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Greg

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