The “prepare to evacuate order” came by phone at 9 a.m. this gray ultra smoky morning. So, off I went through the house rounding up my two useless cats, and my bug-eyed road buddy Perro, making sure I loaded cat food, cans of Mighty Dog and sundry bedding for my pets, just in case I had to abandon my home here on a little mountain top in Escondido. I also made sure my X60 notebook with its WWAN Verizon data network was charged and in the back of my trusty little Prius, along with my cell phone and “get out of town in a hurry bag.”
By 11 am, the visibility was down to less than one-quarter mile and a second fire had erupted down by Lake Hodges, which is south of me. The main blaze however is less than one mile away and it’s being supercharged by 55 mph Santa Ana winds.
First and foremost I am fire aware southern California boy. So right after the first notification came in, I fired up the tractor and cleared a 100by 75-foot safety spot away from my house. I cleared everything down to BME (bare mineral earth, then moved my SUV to the its separate safety spot and covered my boat’s 6 gallon gas tank and my two-gallon gas can in a potato mound I excavated this weekend. Then I covered it with a shake and bake fire blanket and soaked my garden, hastily picking up blown down palm fronds that have come off my 70 foot palm tree in the windstorm.
The big out call came from the police department around 1 p.m. so I loaded up my useless cats and my road dog and off I went to an evacuation center at the north end of Escondido. I stayed there until about 6 tonight and decided to haul ass for Azusa, where I know my dog and useless cats will be safe for the night.
As I write this the eastern and southern sky are cherry red and the smoke is pretty intense. I’ve thought a lot about what’s left up at the house. My gianty ag water canons are hooked up and on a timer. At 8:30 tonight they’ll start soaking my lower yard and the front of my house. There’s a lot to be said for having 135 PSI water pressure. Well at least, if the fire gets to my house, I’ll come home to some nice black sooty mud.
My attitude about fleeing my house is simple: other than my pets, I don’t have anything I can’t replace. Been there done that in life. But I may appear like some grizzled super salty vet, I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that I’m very afraid of being seriously burned, again. I was burned pretty seriously as a kid. I had 3rd degree burns on about 50 percent of my legs. The pain is something you have to experience to believe. It’s quite unforgettable.
So I don’t take chances with fire. If the Witch Creek fire takes my house, I can always rebuild. I can’t replace my buddy Perro or my two useless cats, so I keep them close at hand and safe.
But I wanted to write tonight about some things I observed at the evacuation center and by watching local and regional media (particularly a.m.talk radio). The evacuation center had a computer room set up. It was filled to overflowing with kids, playing interactive games. Not one kid has his browser parked on the local newspapers web site, or on websites belonging to any of the San Diego news radio stations. Had it been me, I would have put a responsible kid in front of a computer with strict orders to relay any news to the 2,000 or so of us at the evacuation center. There was almost no incoming news prior to 630 p.m, so I pulled out my cell and called the North County Times and got in touch with the deputy M.E., explaining who I was and asking what news they had. I was particularly interested in what routes out of Escondido were open since I-15 has been closed all day and th east west arterials to I-5 were also closed because of the more than half dozen fires raging down here now.
I can’t begin to say how much I don’t like being in a valley surrounded on three sides by fire with no surface routes out of here. Hey if I were a reporter working the fire story, the second set of questions I would have asked the highway patrol commander is “when do you expect to allow traffic through and what exit routes are open?” It took until 6:15 tonight for the local Fox station in San Diego to get their traffic reporter to say “ yes, you can get out northbound, isfyou take I-15 to the Pala exit east to the Pala Casino, then turn left on Temecula Road and take it north to the big casino in Temecula where you can get on I-15 north again.”
But back to the process of being an evacuee: The volunteers at the overflow evacuation center I was directed to were incredible. They provided treats. Chilled beverages, water and hope to the 2,000 or so people who were there, and who ate dinner and spent the night on the gymnasium’s floor. I mean I can’t praise them enough. They put on nice spaghetti feed and provided games and television for kids and adults. And no pet at the evacuation center went without water and at least a knish and a reaffirming stroke between their ears.
With the one exception of the San Diego AM radio fox affiliate, the new has been incredibly superficial. There have been almost no details on what routes are open or how to get to the Fallbrook Gate of Camp Pendleton to drive across the base and get on I-5, which is open to Los Angeles. But there has been a lot of sniveling from one specific radio talk show host, Roger Hedgecock on the lack of air tanker support for the San Diego firestorm. Never mind that the winds make it unsafe for tankers to fly, or that the voters of San Diego turned down a bond measure that would have provided organic air tanker support in 2003. The bond was turned down because it would have increased taxes. Well D’oh!
The inability or unwillingness of AM radio to provide detailed information on the status of communities effected by the fires in San Diego is one of the most damning comments that can be made about talk radio today. There are more than 200,000 residents of this county that have been evacuated to centers tonight and all talk and news radio can do is provide superficial overviews of fire status and not one scintilla of granular detail.
It’s enough to make me weep. Or maybe that’s just the particulate solids in the smoke filled air tonight in San Diego County.
Well, I’ve got to tend to my grove and then set my alarm clock for midnight, to make sure that my mountaintop is still safe.
To my friends and family that read my sometimes odd ramblings; every one is tucked in and safe, here on my little mountaintop in rural northern San Diego County where I can move my water canons by the fiery light of the Witch Creek Fire. Cough cough, Jim Forbes on 10/22/2007.
Thank God for Great Portable Computers and Persistent Connectivity.
I literally never go anywhere without my ThinkPad X60 convertible notebook. It’s become such an integral part of my life that I now automatically keep it charged when its noit in use so it’s always ready to go.
Tonight, at an evacuation center I booted it up and quickly bought a $15 day pass on the Verizon broadband network to get up to the minute news on the fires that surround the little town where I live (Escondido ,CA).
Arriving at the evacuation center I was pleased to see that they had set up a “computer room” with a wireless network. My pleasure quickly turned to anger after I noticed that the room was filled with unsupervised kids playing games on the computers. Not one of the youngsters was checking web sites for fire information. So, I sat down with a cup of coffee and checked road closures on the Cal Tran web site as well as looked for bulletins on my local paper’s web site.
Cutting and pasting information into a Google Docs document, I wandered over to the information board and had someone—a teacher who worked at the school which was the over flow evacuation center to which I had been directed —write the updates on an information bulletin board. My handwriting is illegible; her’s was schoolmarm perfect.
I’m writing this on my trusty X60 tablet now. It has about four hours of battery life remaining and I my day pass on Verizon is good until tomorrow night. Me, my notebook and persistent wireless connectivity, it doesn’t get any better and it makes me feel all snuggly safe, as I watch a crimson sky through incredibly thick smoke. So here I am, same bat time, same bat channel_ JMF