Monday morning at 10:00, my wife, Muri, and I set out to deliver Meals on Wheels, our monthly service date. As we left our neighborhood, strong Santa Ana winds were blowing in from the East, filling that air with ash from the recent Canyon Fire.  The fire watch truck was parked at the top of Weir Canyon Road, as it usually is when fire danger is high but we saw no sign of smoke. By 10:30, we had loaded our cooler of meals into the car and were on our way to our first client.  Now, a large smoke plume was rising above Anaheim Hills, so we turned on the radio.  A fast moving fire has broken out near the site of last month’s Canyon Fire.  Evacuation of Anaheim Hills is imminent.   We returned our cooler of meals to the MOW  office and head for home.  By that time, a mandatory evacuation had been ordered.

As we approached the long hill leading up Weir Canyon Road to our house, the scene was surrealistic.   Traffic was snarled in every direction, partly because the local freeways were already closed because of the fire.   Because it was a weekday, many people were away from their homes, so there were as many trying to get up the hill to retrieve a few things from their houses as there were coming down the hill to evacuate.  School buses mixed with cars, evacuating children from two elementary school in the fire zone and emergency vehicles … fire trucks and police cars … fought their way through the traffic, squeezing through impossible spaces with sirens blaring.  After 45 minutes, we came to an intersection where the road was closed to any traffic, so we U-turned to join the slow caravan down again.  At Serrano Road, we turned, hoping the back way down would be faster … it was, but not by much and the hills to our left were aflame as we drove. Serrano would be closed shortly after we got through.

By that point five friends had texted, offering us a place to stay.  We ended up at Ron and Linda’s, the first people we heard from.  They were already watching the news and the shot from a news helicopter above the 91 freeway made it clear how fast moving and immense this fire was.  With the strong winds carrying burning embers over roads and firebreaks the firefighters were having trouble gettin ahead of the blaze.  Houses were already afire to the north of us and the fire was racing south through the brushy hills that parallel Anaheim Hills, running right behind our house.

Date Shot: 20171009 - File Name/Slug: 1010_NWS_OCR-L-AHFIRE-21.nef - Camera Serial Number: 2112111 - 1010_NWS_OCR-L-AHFIRE-21

The neighborhood that was burning looked so much like ours that our daughter texted us, saying, Please tell me this isn’t your street. Sometime later, there were overhead shots of some large mansions burning to the south of us.  Aerial news coverage seems to love the scenes of burning homes and our concern about the fate of our neighborhood was softened by the fact that it wasn’t being featured on the news.   Early in the evening, we heard from our son, who stayed with the house.   The house is OK, he said.   The wind shifted at the last minute to save it.

Tuesday was waiting day.   The fire had moved far south of us but hot spots remained, flashing flames and wisps of smoke among the ashes.  News teased about the evacuations being lifted, but the entire day passed with all road closures still in place.  Finally, at 7 pm, we were allowed to return home.   The fire had burned up to the edge of the wilderness area which is a single rowof houses behind our backyard, maybe 500 feet away.   The burning brush had created a firestorm, which spread across the road and set fire to the front yard at the end of our street and showered our neighborhood with the kind of embers that often get under the eaves of houses, starting attic fires. Because of the traffic on the hill and the speed of the fire’s advance, there were no fire trucks on the street, only a few firefighters on foot.   It was exactly the scenario that led to the destruction of six homes closer to the fire’s origin.  Our son and a few  neighbors that stayed behind likely saved the neighborhood by watering down eaves and putting out small fires.  Leaving the neighborhood this morning, our beautiful scenic hills were charred as far as the eye could see.

This is the fourth time we have been evacuated for wildfires but certainly our closest call.  The other times, we left feeling certain our evacuation was just a precaution, that we would have a home to return to.   Not this time.  How do I feel today, looking out over the blackened remains of our scenic hills? Vulnerable, for one.   I have teared up several times writing this.   Incredibly fortunate.  Grateful.  To the friends who offered lodging and support … and the many checking on us.  From the scene my son described, I am glad we weren’t there.  In our neighborhood, it was not so much an evacuation as a panicked flight through a firestorm. I’m thankful to those did stay and fight the fire. Was God smiling down on our neighborhood through the smoke and embers? I can say yes but not without wondering why there was such devastating in a similar neighborhood only a few miles away.  Wondering doesn’t make me any less grateful.

Though the firefighters weren’t around to fight for our home this time, the scale and speed of advance of the Canyon Fire 2 made it impossible for them to be everywhere.   It was several hours before they could get out ahead of the blaze but they saved countless homes.   They are true heroes.

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One Comment on “Fire”

  1. bluestempond Says:

    Wow. I’m glad you are safe.

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