Sunday, June 17, 2007


Interesting day, Saturday. My wife, Lisa, had gone out for several hours to run some errands, leaving me with the boys. We were spending much of the day in the backyard. Every so often, a low-flying plane would buzz by, and it sounded as if there was some helicopter activity in the area. This is not unusual, as we live very close to Camp Pendleton - the largest Marine training base in the U.S. Lots of planes and helicopters, even heavy-ordnance weapons and machine gun fire are not uncommon. So seeing some air traffic is not unusual.

Around mid-afternoon, Lisa calls. Her first question is, "Where is the fire?"
"Fire? What fire?"
She was driving toward our general area - we live on a high hill overlooking a spot where two river valleys join - and saw large plumes of smoke. So I went outside the front of the house and - wow! A major wildfire was burning close by. I ran down the street a short ways to get a better view, and it looked like it was burning very near to my parents' home, which is about 1.5 miles as the crow flies. I relayed this to Lisa, and she went straight for their house. My parents are out of town for the time being, but reachable by cell phone.

Anyone who lives in a fire-susceptible area such as ours has a plan in place for this type of occurrence. While Lisa dashed for my parents' house, I started inventorying our own belongings. A big fire can travel very quickly, and this one looked big. I got the pet carriers out and made a list of things we would need for the kids for a few days. Lisa contacted my parents and received a verbal wish list of things of great value to remove from their home. Wedding albums, rosaries, pictures, videos, financial docs, etc.

When Lisa filled her vehicle with things from their house and returned home, she told me the fire was within 1/2 mile at most of my parents' house (she was right), and burning hot. I immediately left for there to grab more things. I brought the video camera. I realized soon after arriving the the firefighters were throwing everything they had at it, and should be able to control it. There were three helicopters repeatedly filling their tanks and dousing the fires, as well as two air tankers (the low-flying planes I noticed earlier) dropping red powdery fire-retardant in advance of the flames.

The following video is taken from my parents' back porch. For some perspective: the house is perched on a ridge over a golf course. The chopper will approach a lake on the course and hover very low over it. It is at this point dangling a hose - about 20 feet long - into the lake and sucking water into its holding tank. It then flies over to the blaze and empties the tank, then immediately returns to the lake. There is a pesky palm frond in front of my camera (let's just say I am not a world-class journalist), which I had a hard time avoiding because I am perched on top of a landscaping wall while filming, and therefore not very maneuverable. When the chopper takes off from the lake, you can make out a stream of water faling from the hose. Then, though much of its flight is obscured by the palm frond, you can see the chopper drop its payload of water on the fire (picture is not clear - look for a dense white spot under the distant helicopter). Sorry - I would have stayed and gotten better video but there was a major fire burning about 1/2 mile away and I was in a bit of a hurry.

Long story short, the blaze was extinguished, and no homes were lost.

Those who live outside the U.S. may not know that each of the 50 states has an official motto, or slogan. Some examples are: Missouri, "The Show-Me State"; New Mexico, "The Land of Enchantment", Texas, "The Lone Star State"; or my personal favorite New Hampshire, "Live Free or Die".
Days like Saturday often remind me why I often joke that California, currently known as "The Golden State", should be renamed.
How about: "California: As Seen on Television."


VAB said...

Wow! Wild day. Glad you guys were all safe.

Camille said...

Scary stuff.

I had to evacuate myself and my kids from a minor flood. The water ended up about an inch deep in my apartment (and considerably deeper in the parking lot of the apartment complex). I had time to put my wood furniture up on cans of food so that the couch and bookshelves, etc, weren't spoiled by the water or anything. When I drove out of the parking lot there were places on the road that were too deep to drive through, but I could get through to a relative's home that was high above the water.

I sloshed into my apartment the next day, the old carpet was totally soaked in areas, but the concrete slab was uneven so only part of the carpet was soaked, amazingly. I started sucking up water with a shop vac that day and then later with a carpet cleaner. I needed to get myself and my kids back home ASAP, it was very difficult for us to deal with being away from home even one night, and fortunately we were able to get back in quickly. The apartment manager paid to have these big fans blow underneath the damp sections of carpet and to have it tacked down again after it was dry.

Anyway, that was a pretty minor brush with a disaster compared to what lots of people go through. I'm glad you and your kids didn't have to up and move suddenly.

Niksmom said...

Holy Cow! Reminds me of a big fire up in Contra Costa County where we used to live. I was pregnant and on bed rest and some yokels set off fireworks that lit some fields on fire. We were contemplating (a) how fast we could dig a fire break on the hill behind our NEW house and (b) what to take when we left. Fortunately, it didn't come to either! Whew. I feel your adrenaline there, Steve!

Anonymous said...

Camille said: Scary stuff.

I had to evacuate myself..

That must have been scary :-)