On Wednesday, San Diego County broke out in fire. 48 hours later, we are still experiencing fire outbreaks – and dealing with the consequences.
I’ve experienced fires in the past – in September of 2012, I ran out of the Cucamonga Wilderness down Icehouse Canyon Trail when a fire near Mt Baldy broke out. Seeing hikers sprinting down the 3-Ts trail to the Icehouse Saddle was enough to prompt me to run those 4 miles back to my car hard. And then last year, when N and I were hiking San Gorgonio in June, we turned around at 10,000 feet at the San Jacinto Overlook because of a fire in the valley thousands of feet below us – we both agreed that reaching the peak was small beans compared to the unpredictable nature of fire.
That’s one of the incredibly hard things about a fire – it doesn’t discriminate. It consumes. And though it IS a part of nature, it is also a force that is impossible to harness, difficult to predict, and naturally destructive.
Many of our beloved wilderness areas broke out into flame last fall – the Mountain Fire affected the San Jacinto area and thankfully the town of Idyllwild was saved through the valiant efforts of fire crews who worked tirelessly. And then there was the Carpenter Fire on Mt Charleston outside of Las Vegas that scorched 28,000+ acres. And who could forget the Rim Fire in and around Yosemite National Park, with nearly 258,000 acres burned? And many, many more. This is just how living in The West is – fire is a constant. At least in nature, “out there”…. the more urban areas where we’ve lived always seemed safe.
So you can imagine my surprise when on Wednesday around 10:45, I left the campus library where I was working, in order to purchase hot tea from the cafeteria. Though it was nearly 100 degrees outside, I work in (what feels like) a refrigerator, so hot tea is often my beverage of choice. I saw one massive plume of smoke to the north.
Hhhmm. Not normal… but okay? Perhaps there was a drill on Camp Pendleton….? I thought.
And then I turned around – and saw an even larger and much closer plume to the south. It looked ominous.
After grabbing my tea, I conferred with a co-worker and she called campus police. They assured her that the campus was okay – it’s just that Pendleton had a fire, and there was a BIG fire in Carlsbad. Well fuck. I live in Carlsbad. So naturally, I wasn’t worried at all. This was exacerbated by the fact that N was away at one of his favorite desert destinations and wasn’t set to return until Thursday or Friday. At this point, most of us in the library were glued to computers for any sort of updated information, which was surprisingly hard to come by, given the constant media coverage. At one point, from a live computer feed, I watched the fire “jump” across the El Camino Real, a main road in Carlsbad. I said FUCK a lot louder than what was PC. Later, the lights in the library flickered – and even though I worked with two more students, my mind was not super focused. I ended up leaving around 11:30 and heading home. The campus was closed down shortly after I left, and will remain closed through Monday the 19th.
On my way home, I could see massive plumes of smoke from the Poinsettia Fire (Carlsbad). I watched, awestruck as the smoke color changed, and could taste the soot in my sinuses. There were many evacuations in the area, but as I live just west of the 5, I was okay where I was. In the aftermath, my eyes are still itching and even today it smells like someone had a giant campfire.
For the rest of the day, I pretty much hunkered down at home, surrounded by kitties. I also threw together an emergency oh shit you must evacuate NOW pile with a packed bag or two important documents, personal items, cat stuff, hard drive, running shoes (because these are a necessity to me), a few clothing items, a photo album, medical stuff, hiking pack and my violin. Funny, the things we would take with us.
I left my car in the cul-de-sac, in case the garage lost power, and in the back of my mind thought that I was slightly overreacting. Granted, I live west of the 5, and this was my first fire outbreak. But still. I watched the news, cursed the idiotic journalists who would do anything for a story (but couldn’t tear my own eyes away), and refreshed my computer with fire information. I texted with friends, many of whom were sharing similar sentiments. Within a matter of hours, the number of fires grew from four to six. And later in the day, as many as nine. The sheer nature and number of the fires, in combination with the weather conditions left me feeling very uncomfortable.
When I got a chance to chat with N, I gave him an update; I also knew that his jeep was parked at his unit. I told him that I wished he could be here and that I was out of my comfort zone. It’s one thing to be able to hike – or run – away from a fire and realize that it won’t affect your life and property. But it’s another thing to just wait…. stuck in your house because the roads are clogged and god forbid – you leave even for a moment and then more fires break out close to where you live. All the while more fires continue to break out.
The nature in which so many fires were suddenly popping up – was unprecedented. And while I understand that San Diego is experiencing Santa Ana conditions (high winds, high heat) and has just had the 4th driest year on record since records like this were kept – urban fires like the ones that were suddenly sprouting were unnerving. Spot fires continued to break out, fueled by ashes blown on wind. I don’t know what was more disturbing – the unpredictability of spot fires or the idea of cereal arson. Both thoughts had me on edge.
So I did things that were good for me – stopped watching the news, grabbed my camera and did some photography, hung out with the kitties, and discovered N’s stash of leftover PB Eggs. Let’s just say that as of yesterday, there are no more PB Eggs in the house.
Around sunset, I went out to take some more pictures. I think I needed to STEP AWAY from the PB Eggs.
Once the sun set, it was a matter of heading home, making sure the kitties were okay, avoiding the news, and taking stock of the remaining PB Eggs. So naturally I watched Shit TV, edited photos, took random night shots, and obliterated the PB Eggs. The House Monsters were very supportive.
And here I am – about two days after everything started. Since then, it feels like a lot has changed. N came home yesterday, retrieved his jeep from his unit where he had left it, and drove home. We had a very nice date night at Noodles & Co., and though the fires flared up a bit on Thursday, overall – for us – it was okay.
Today – Friday – was more challenging. There are many fires on Camp Pendleton, and it seems like no one has been untouched. There are lots of questions floating around, and speculation – especially when unsubstantiated – is frustrating. There is a lot of damage on base, and we are waiting to get official word from the base commanders.
Where does this leave us?
Well – things can be replaced. People cannot. I’m so grateful that my person is home, even if we don’t know what to expect on Camp Pendleton. The fire is still being fought, so it’s just a matter of waiting and getting official information passed. I think I can speak for everyone in Southern California – we are SO GRATEFUL to our firefighters and police and emergency rescue personnel and everyone who has helped during this tragic time. It seems that firefighters and resources from across the country, let alone the state of California, came to help. THANK YOU!
Tomorrow I’m hiking with C. We had planned to hike San Gorgonio, SoCal’s highpoint at 11,502 feet. The altitude will be good training for upcoming trips, albeit a little painful on the lungs early in the season. The clear air will do wonders for the head and heart, though.
A few more pictures, just because it’s what speaks to me –