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October 22, 2007: Fire in San Diego

FINAL UPDATE: (8:00 p.m.; others below) We're home. The winds have died down here. Flames are visible on the hill a distance from us, but they do not look like the aggressive firestorms we have seen on the television all day. Thanks to everyone for your prayers. We're tired; but thankful. May others did not fare as well and did not get to come home to their own beds.

 

No FoG, just smoke.

San Diego County is on fire. At the time I am writing this (10:00 a.m. local time) there is an 18 mile wide fire line going through Rancho Bernardo towards Rancho Santa Fe. Already, the news is saying that the structural damage is more significant than the 2003 wildfires.

For what it's worth:

1. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has already been in touch with the Presbytery office. They were extremely helpful last time and we appreciate their quick action this time.

2. The authorities have done an amazing job of keeping everyone informed and alerted. There is something called a "reverse 911" that has been implemented. People received mandatory evacuation notices on their telephones.

There are 8 separate wildfires going, most remain 0% contained; meaning that they are blazing away in whatever direction the wind pushes them.

Please keep all of us in San Diego Presbytery in your prayers. We appreciate it more than we can express.

UPDATE: 12:30 p.m.

According to the local news, there are approximately a dozen fires burning in San Diego County. It is a difficult time for many people -- the question you face: what do you take? In addition to people and pets, we have packed pictures and computers (with picture files) and important papers.

The fire making the most national news is north of where we are -- it is actually where I used to serve in Escondido and Rancho Bernardo. Solana Beach residents have been urged to  to voluntarily evacuate.

It is a different fire, the Harris fire, that most directly impacts us. It began near the border of Mexico, out in terrain that is rocky and hillsides. Santa Ana winds -- that's what they are called -- is a compression of winds that heats up and blows embers. Think of a flaming baseball that goes as much as 1/3 to 1/2 mile and starts burning wherever it lands.

I took a picture from the front of our house to show the smoke, but it would look like a mostly blank picture. The only way I can explain the sensation is: imagine standing close to a bonfire and not moving back when the smoke overtakes you. Your eyes water, your throat gets scratchy and sore, you find yourself breathing hard with even the most minimal exertion.

More as the day progresses.

UPDATE: 4:00 p.m.

We have received a "voluntary evacuation" order. Many of our neighbors are also packing. The smoke is too thick to see the flames which are reported to be less than five miles away. (If that seems like a long distance, it should be noted that the Witch Creek fire north of here traveled about 15 miles in 3 hours this morning.) We heard helicopters in the distance; but, again, could not see anything.

We have packed and moved to Chula Vista Presbyterian Church. It is about six miles and a nother eight-lane highway (the 805) west of where we live. We're here until the evacuation order is lifted. We expect it will be through the night.

I'm trying to think of a way to describe the experience down here. It is different than when we were in Escondido a four years ago (almost to the day; those fires started on October 26). There is a nervous energy this time, that time was such a surprise and so far out of anyone's imagination. Perhaps it is that way again  up there; down here, it has been much more an experience of trying to piece together bits of information from the media, who themselves are trying to piece together bits of information from the front lines. For a good portion of the day, the Harris fire had not had much update; then, there were some reports of movement and swirling winds; then, reports that Eastlake (the eastern part of Chula Vista) was under heavy smoke and ash, but no homes were threatened; to the time when the voluntary evacuation order was made.