Close to Home

Palm tree burns on Sand Hill Road in Poway during a firestorm on Monday, October 22, 2007. Credit: Photo by K.C. Alfred, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Zuma Press.

Palm tree burning in our neighborhood, Oct. 22, 2007.
Credit: K.C. Alfred, San Diego Union-Tribune

Now that we are home and safe, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to add on the wildfires that have so scarred our county. And my arms feel like lead. In part because we are mentally and emotionally wiped out. It’s been a long week and we’re so looking forward to turning the page on a fresh one come Sunday night.

But also in part because when you see how monstrous not one but five simultaneous fires in your region can be, you end up feeling a bit small and unavailing. You realize how little power you have to change the course of nature and how you really ought not to place much importance on building a home or a certain way of life because it can all be taken from you in a matter of hours.

So here I sit, feeling a bit silly again about the name of our blog. These past few days in San Diego were not good at all. In fact, for those who lost family members and homes and livelihoods, they were very, very bad. And when a natural disaster hits your community as badly as this one did, everyone feels it.

In the last week in San Diego County, over 500,000 people (one in six) were evacuated from their homes, 10,000 of them ending up at Qualcomm Stadium alone (the largest of 35 evacuation centers). Over 1500 homes were totally lost and many more damaged. And that doesn’t account for the other fires burning around Southern California. Unbelievably, only a handful of people lost their lives but many were injured, and the emotional and financial toll on our city and its people cannot be counted.

None of our immediate circle of friends lost their homes but the fires still cut close. The Witch Creek fire, at 198,000 acres and still burning as I write, tore through the north east part of our neighborhood (about two miles from our home) and ravaged Rancho Bernardo, the neighborhood immediately north-adjacent to us on the map.

My yoga studio is in Rancho Bernardo and my thoughts the whole week were with the men and women that I know only by face and name. In the same suburb, the home of a family whose little girl was at daycare with Tau burned to the ground. All that was left standing was the chimney of a fireplace that they’d never used and their daughter’s outdoor slide. The flames spread through a colleague of Dave’s street in RB unexpectedly quickly. As the side of his house caught and one of their cars started smoking, they piled their four kids into the second car and reversed down the driveway as firefighters beat back the fire and managed to save their home.

The footprint of the Witch Creek fire is something to see (picture below is a couple days old). When you consider that it takes 25 minutes for us to drive west to the coast from our home (marked on the map), that makes the breadth of the fire roughly 60 minutes of driving west to east. Imagine how far you can drive from your home in an hour and then imagine that land burned.

Witch Creek Fire (from the San Diego Union Tribune)

Click to enlarge

Today, we unpacked the last of our evacuation bags. There is still a hint of smoke in the air first thing in the morning but it burns off as the air lifts. Many of the fires are either out or at varying percentages of containment. Tau and I went grocery shopping mid-morning and in the supermarket parking lot stood a big, red fire engine, empty and unmanned. We walked around it and looked at the hoses and ladders, the dials and the large, red fire captain’s helmet on the dash. It looked as if the engine had just been cleaned and polished.

And yet there is no sense of any of this being over. Inside the store, I heard locals talking about families that they knew who had lost their homes in Poway, discussing who had been placed in temporary housing and who still needed somewhere to stay. Conversations I imagine we’ll hear all around our neighborhood for months and years to come.

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