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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Report on the San Diego Fires 

Posted by James at 2:11 PM ET

Normally, we're an upbeat blog, but for this post we're going to change gears.

San Diego resident Nick has helped out behind the scenes on the blog in the past and he even sent us some Charger Girl photos from earlier this year. He was at Ground Zero for the San Diego Fires. He sent us some photos of the devastation, a first hand account of the fires and a request for donations to San Diego charities.

As we are all well aware of, the course of our normal everyday lives can be completely changed in a split-second. For a majority of San Diego residents, myself included, our lives were brought to a complete standstill last week when we collectively held our breaths and watched as wildfires roared through our countryside and engulfed our homes.


San Diego Fires

San Diego Fires


On Sunday, Oct. 21 my wife and I were doing our typical weekend routine: Relaxing while watching a little NFL football in our modest Rancho Bernardo home. As we sat there watching the Cowboys and Vikings battle it out, an alarming and distinct odor of smoke filled our living room. Being veterans of the 2003 fire storm that ravaged our city we knew that it could only be coming from one thing: wildfire. Running out to our front porch we were greeted by an atmosphere thick with smoke. The foothills to the south of us were completely obscured by the warm gray clouds. The sun, normally impossible to look at directly, was a blazing orange orb faded by the dense smoke. We turned to each other and quickly realized that this was NOT a good situation. The amount of smoke was a sure sign that this fire had to be close. Returning inside we scoured the t.v. for any news of where the fire might be only to become discouraged by the absence of any reports. Hopping onto my computer I searched the local news station's websites and learned the fires were burning deep in the mountains 70 miles to our east. Apparently, the strong Santa Ana winds were carrying the smoke from those fires down the hills and into our lowland neighborhoods. We went to bed that night assured the danger was too far away to merit much concern.



San Diego Fires

San Diego Fires


At 6:00am Monday, Oct. 22, our sleep abruptly came to an end by the piercing sound of my cell phone. On the other end of the line was my father clamoring to get out of my home as fast as I could. Half asleep and in a state of denial I questioned him why? His frantic tone made the dire situation immediately clear and all too real. In the course of only a few hours the fires that had began deep in the mountains 70 miles to the east of us had traveled rather briskly into our backyards. Immediately my lucid, "just waking up" mental state plunged into a state of panic, fear, and "what the hell do I do now?". Running back into the bedroom I barked at my wife: "Honey! Get up! We are on mandatory evacuation!". Groggy and confused my wife reacted just like I did to my father. "Why?" she asked. "The fire is here! It's in Rancho Bernardo!" was my panicked reply.

We turned the television on and our fears were confirmed. The fire was here and to our disbelief, houses only a few streets down from us were already ablaze. Frozen by shock, I just stared in half amazement, half fear. There, on my t.v. screen, was a news reporter standing in front of a house completely engulfed in flames while the house next to it was just beginning to burn. I remember my first thought being, "Should I hop in the shower? Who knows when I will be able to have a hot shower again?". Obviously, that was the wrong thing to do first! In a mad dash my wife and I grabbed whatever we thought was the most important. First was the safe with all of our important documents. Next, clothes. Then the computers. My art portfolio. Family photos. Of course, we wanted to take it all but our little SUV could only hold so much plus there was this fire raging down the street.



San Diego Fires

San Diego Fires


Outside, the wind was vicious as it kicked up debris into our faces. The piercing smoke stung our sinuses and our lungs. Filling up our truck with what few belongings we deemed irreplaceable appeared to take forever. But by 6:20am we had grabbed what we could and it was time to escape our modest Rancho Bernardo home of 4+ years. A drive to the I-15 is a relatively short trek on any normal day. But today the 2-minute drive had become an hour drive due to the volume of evacuees fleeing the raging inferno. A tribute to the laid back attitude of most San Diegans, when we finally reached the freeway we discovered why the backup was so bad - People were still obeying the metering lights that regulate traffic entry onto the I-15. Only 2-cars per green light. Incredible.

My wife was a wreck. I was a wreck. Still, we fled, praying Godspeed to the firefighters and police officers while heading southeast towards my parents house in El Cajon. From their home we watched as home after home after home burned to the ground. Fires were raging all around the county. Peoples lives were being completely altered. A surreal fog embraced us for the next few days as the Santa Ana winds did not relent but continued to sustain the fire at a devastating rate. It wasn't until 3 days after we were evacuated that we were allowed to return home.


San Diego Fires

San Diego Fires



We did come home to find our house safe. Unfortunately some of our neighbors were not so lucky. In all, over 1500 homes were destroyed in San Diego with the majority of victims residing right here in our neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo. The impact of all the carnage is magnified when you walk amongst the rubble for yourself, smell the sting of the burnt possessions, and stand next to your neighbor as they weep over their loss.

The pictures you look at here are from my own camera as my wife and I walked around our neighborhood. Chimneys morbidly marked the remnants of each home like gravestones. I felt terrible taking these photos because of the guilt I feel over my own home being safe while their homes were destroyed. But I also realize it is necessary to bring awareness to just how devastating this disaster was and how it affected our community. A friend of mine also took some aerial shots of the devastation from his helicopter. From these photos you can see just how indiscriminate wildfire can be. Some houses stand while others are gone.

I urge you to please consider donating to help bring some relief to all of the Southern California residents affected. Below is a list of charitable organizations you can donate to, to help the victims of these wildfires. Your generosity is greatly appreciated and you will definitely be helping someone to get back on their feet after this terrible disaster.

From the bottom of all of our hearts,
Thank you, Nick.

The San Diego Foundation
San Diego American Red Cross
San Diego Salvation Army
San Diego Food Bank




San Diego Fires


San Diego Fires


San Diego Fires



San Diego Fires


San Diego Fires


San Diego Fires


San Diego Fires

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