Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Diego Firestorm 2007

Wednesday, 9 am, October 24, 2007

This picture was taken in La Mesa looking south towards Mt. San Miguel in Rancho San Diego. Our home is located to the left side of the mountain, approx six miles from Rancho San Diego. Lou said this view reminded him of Pittsburgh PA, approximately 40 years ago, when the steel mills were in full operation.


As of this writing, the worst fire in the history of San Diego County is still raging. We voluntarily evacuated ourselves from our home in Jamul on Monday, October 22nd at 2:30 in the afternoon. The mandatory evacuation of our area came on Tuesday afternoon, the next day.

The fire actually started on Saturday morning, October 20th, close to Tecate, Mexico, on the American side – on Harris Ranch Road, or something like that. It has since been dubbed the HARRIS FIRE. The windy, dry conditions spread the fire to the west and southwest at alarming speeds.

Then, as fate would have it, another fire began near Santa Ysabel and Julian at a place called Witch Creek, renamed the WITCH FIRE. The same windy conditions moved the fire in the same direction.

Many more fires erupted in different regions of the county. Too many to remember their names. From a satellite picture, it looked like the whole county was on fire.

The wind was blowing at gale force winds, first in this direction, and then in that direction, shifting back and forth so fast no one could predict where the fires were going. It was blowing so hard, and the flames were so high, it was unsafe for aircraft to be in the air, much less in a position to successfully help put out fires.


Our saga begins: Monday, October 22

So, on Monday afternoon around two p.m., we decided to pack up our 24’ trailer with our important papers, cameras, and laptops to head out for Qualcomm Stadium, which was designated by the city as a central evacuation site. As we left our home in Jamul on Route 94, we passed Steele Canyon High School, a local designated evacuation site. The parking lot was full. On the other side of the highway is Mt. San Miguel. At the base of Mt. San Miguel, we reach the first major shopping district on this rural road. Glancing over, we noticed a lot of rv's already assembled, so we pulled in and found a place in front of the Target store. We felt safe because we never really thought the fire would get close to our house anyway. We were just taking precautionary measures, figuring we’d be back home in a day or so.

Shortly after our departure, the two roads leading back to our house, both Highway 94 and Jamul Drive, were secured and we could not return. So, we settled in to spend the night. We awoke at 3 a.m. to find the silhouette of Mt. San Miguel mountain afire, not a half a mile away. The red beacon light atop still flashing, the fire encompassed the mountain. Later, we found out that one of the tv stations has a camera mounted there and actually showed the flames approaching the tower, the lens cracking from the heat, and the picture going blank. Mt. San Miguel is the highest point in San Diego county and most tv and radio stations and cell phone repeaters are mounted there. We decided to leave for our original destination, Qualcomm stadium, at around 4 a..m. in case THIS area also had to be evacuated.


Tuesday, October 23

At 4 a.m., the traffic was light and we made it to Qualcomm in no time at all. We found a place where the busses usually park, on the east side of the stadium and settled in again. We tried to go back to sleep and eventually awoke around 9 a.m. We started to walk across the parking lot to the stadium and were approached by a couple who said they had coffee, pastries, milk, orange juice, bread, all donated from a local bakery. They took us to their pick-up truck and began piling stuff in our arms – we had to tell them to stop, please give this to families – we were just two people and didn’t need that much. They were all smiles, doing something good for their community. This was just the beginning of the good deeds going on inside the stadium.

Back in the trailer, we had some of the coffee and muffins they supplied us. After eating, again we took off for the stadium. In the parking lot, close to the trailer, donations were beginning to arrive. This is their make-shift donation center. At it's peak during the day, there were two lanes of traffic over a quarter of a mile long waiting, patiently, to deliver their donations.


As we got closer, we noticed at least four Walmart semis in the parking lot, the San Diego Blood Bank, there to receive blood donations, Farmer’s Insurance Mobile Claims Center, and vans from various television stations, one as far away as Phoenix.


The parking lot was full of cars - a lot of them had tents, or partial tents like this with cots set up next to their cars.


Those who didn't have some sort of camp trailer or RV vehicle moved inside the stadium and slept on cots in the hallways. The newspaper tells the story.


Volunteers blowing up balloons for the kids.


This section was just for the infants. The donations were divided up and put into their own section throughout the stadium. If you wanted a can of peas, you went to the canned goods section. The whole stadium looked like a giant supermarket - the only difference, everything was FREE.


General distribution center inside stadium.


Little kids had their own supervised playground.


Here we have two insurance agents from Farmer's.


Lots of thanks to whoever sent this to Cory who got it on the truck for San Diego.


The support of the volunteers at Qualcomm and the amount of donations was truly overwhelming. San Diego showed it’s heart by the response it made to us and all the others that came for shelter. To ensure order, the police were very visible, making numerous rounds in their cars throughout the parking lots, as the National Guard showed their presence by walking around inside the stadium, some fully armed.

We had many calls from Brother Knights of Columbus, both in regard to our safety and our knowledge of other Brothers who may have also been evacuated. Brother Jerry Kay and his wife Pam insisted that we impose upon them by relocating our trailer to their home in La Mesa. Since we had no water or electrical hook-ups at the stadium, we decided to accept their generous invitation and left the stadium around 6 p.m. on Tuesday night. We fully expected to be going home on Wednesday morning.

Jerry and Pam Kay's house in La Mesa.


Wednesday morning the 24th. To our shock, Jamul was now a major focus of attention

We woke up hoping the situation was going to be better and planes would all be flying, putting out the remaining hot spots around the county. However, that was not the case. Thinking the worst had past, Jamul hot spots had reignited and became a center of attention for firefighters. This time the fires were much closer to our home.

Mechanical failure on one of the fixed wing aircraft somehow grounded all the others. Fire trucks were stationed at the homes most in danger, and only helicopters were making water drops. The roads remained closed to incoming traffic, no way were we going home today, so our wait continues.


Thank you to all of you have made inquiries about us. Thanks for all your prayers, and may God bless you.


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