Monday, October 22, 2007
A Scary Day ... and More to Come
The first frisson of fear struck me as we drove home from church yesterday. I found it difficult to keep the minivan in its own lane as the high winds shoved us about; I was forced to grip the steering wheel off-center in order to keep us traveling straight. The winds were so strong that I decided it would be prudent to exit the freeway five miles before we usually do in order to drive the final leg of the journey home on the back roads where the winds aren't nearly as troublesome. As I exited the freeway and rolled to a stop before turning onto Highway 79, I glanced left, then right, and as I looked right, I saw grayish brown clouds directly south -- a fire that appeared to be burning near the Mexican border. Fear gripped me for a moment as I considered the high winds -- this fire could definitely turn out to be trouble. Big trouble.
The winds were howling across our town all afternoon. Our apple tree, which was fully leaved before we left for church, was nearly bare by evening, and I think all the leaves tumbled across the meadow and blew up against the post office. My friend Margo called from Lake Morena, further east than we are, asking if we were doing all right with the winds and sharing the news that Judith had some damage on her back deck due to a falling tree. The wind continued shrieking around the corners of our house, shaking the windows so much that I jumped off the bed twice during my nap, positive that the glass was going to shatter. Then after dinner we noticed those little news lines running across the bottom of the TV screen: in addition to the small towns near the Mexican border, the entire town of Ramona, population 36,000 and thirty miles northward, was under mandatory evacuation orders. I was soon calling my parents in Hawaii to give them the news, and somehow resisted calling Keith's brother, Kevin, Kevin's wife, and their five children as well as Keith's dad who lives next door to them, all of whom live south of Ramona. I watched the TV news until after 1:00 AM when I finally headed to bed. Between the power outages throughout the night and the wind rattling the windows as well as screaming across the roof, I didn't sleep much. Although the power remained off from 1:30 to around 5:00 AM, it went off and came back on several times between 5:00 and 7:00 AM; each time the power was restored, my green digital clock flashed the time on my weary eyelids until I rolled out of bed and reset it. (Once I missed the reset buttons in the dark and turned on the radio, to Keith's great annoyance.)
I immediately fell back to sleep after turning off the alarm and didn't crawl out of bed until nearly 9 AM, and then promptly at 9:30, the power went out once again and remained out until nearly 2 PM. During that time I had no TV source of news and no Internet, so J brought out his battery-powered boombox, and we tuned it to 600 AM, KOGO, which carried up-to-date news that I listened to between homeschool lessons. Even though every school in the county was off school, we continued our lessons because it kept us distracted from all that was happening. I found out from Keith's dad and his sister Karen that all of the family were able to evacuate safely from Ramona by midnight last night.
Once the power (and thus the TV and Internet) was restored in the afternoon, we tracked the many, many evacuations throughout the county, from Ramona to Solana Beach, from the Mexican border in the south to Fallbrook (on the county line) in the north. The eight fires in San Diego County appear to be even more dangerous and destructive than the Cedar Fires of 2003 which was the largest fire in California history, until today. Fire swept through the communities of Ramona, Poway, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Lakeside, Escondido, San Pasqual Valley, San Marcos, Valley Center, Fallbrook, Potrero, Barrett Junction, Jamul, Dulzura, Descanso, and other parts of the county. And many other communities are in danger: Solana Beach, Del Mar, Alpine, Harbison Canyon, Sorrento Valley, Crest, and others.
The winds continue to gust to 70 mph, and they are not predicted to slow until Wednesday. The temperatures in the inland valleys are running between 90 and 100 degrees, and in some places, the humidity was down to 1% this afternoon. These conditions are perfect, unfortunately, for a firestorm of almost epic proportions. Over 250,000 people have been evacuated (probably more), and there is no count of how many homes have been lost. So far there's been one death and twenty-some injuries, including several firefighters who are in critical condition in burn units. And one hospital (Pomerado) has been evacuated.
Interstate 15 has been closed in both directions, and as the fire drives closer to the coast, Interstate 5 may close soon, too, and if that happens, then there will be no way to travel north remaining to San Diegans. Interstate 8, the east-west freeway, is closed to high-profile vehicles because of the high winds, but that could change to include all vehicles, depending on where the fire travels overnight and tomorrow.
The main evacuation center is Qualcomm Stadium, and the Red Cross has set up other centers in high schools all over the county. Large animals are being kept everywhere from the Lakeside rodeo grounds to the Del Mar fairgrounds to Fiesta Island near Sea World. Tomorrow all schools in the county will be closed, including public and private universities, and we've been asked to stay off the roads if at all possible. Keith went to work today, but he may not go tomorrow, depending on the fire danger.
Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter, and the winds could grow even stronger before the Santa Ana begins to fade on Wednesday (if it obeys the weather forecast). We're planning on staying home tomorrow, keeping track of the news, and praying lots for the people who have lost homes and for the winds to die down so that the firefighters can begin to get the upper hand on the flames. With twelve fires burning from Santa Barbara southward, the fighting capability on these fires is extremely limited. We're perfectly safe for now -- there's not even any smoke to be seen from our town. But that's how the Cedar Fire began in 2003, and we were evacuated later in the week after the winds changed. Obviously, we hope that history will not repreat itself.
As I prayed last night on my photo blog, I will pray again tonight:
Lord, have mercy on us.