Behind the Line
Last updated 10/27/2007 at Noon
It’s rare for a reporter to get the chance to write from behind the lines. That typically happens just once or twice in a career for most folk of my occupation and ilk. So I find myself lapsing into war correspondent mode. It might be easy to lapse into hyperbole from the edge of a firestorm.
Strangely, though, I feel like I’m part of a war. Fire-fueled winds, blackened sky, orange sun at morning followed by orange moon at night. Afternoon takes on a surreal glow as sunlight illuminates an ashen snowfall.
After having my home burn down almost exactly four years ago, I feel as though God put me in his pocket when the devil came knocking at my door.
There is still fire all around us. The 7,600-acre Rice Fire still flanks us to the east, seemingly calm now after tearing through Pala Mesa condominiums and heading north. The fire continues to grow, as only a small part of it has been contained. The last word is that about 500 structures have been destroyed just in the Rice fire. DeLuz residents have been called upon to evacuate their homes.
We are bound by the north and west to fires that have grown about 6,000 acres on Camp Pendleton. The flames jumped eight lanes of I-5 and concern centers around whether power lines from the nuclear plant will be burned.
The southern fire, known as the Witch, seems to be arching toward us with the fickle winds. Fire is drawn to fire.
Like the rest of Fallbrook, my wife and I and some 40,000 other folk received reverse-911 calls Monday at 4 p.m. telling us to evacuate. We were ready. Computers, cat, clothes, crucial documents and other flotsam and jetsam of our lives were loaded and ready to roll.
The fire had jumped I-15 at Reche Road about three hours earlier.
I waited, trusting my 25 years as a reporter. I have covered countless fires. I have watched them throw fireballs far into wind, hop-scotching hills faster than the mind can comprehend.
Yet I have had a home recently burn down. I know the horror of trying to rebuild, of fighting insurance companies and gaining little solace from state agencies.
We waited until 7 p.m., when the wind had reached 67 mph. Then came a dead calm and choking air. We bolted.
My wife, in the van, drove to the little market to wait for me. I doubled back and again grabbed a garden hose. I had three connected to outside faucets.
It is hard to distinguish ash from embers. All must be fought with equal fury. I could not leave my home until I saw the whites of the fire’s eyes. The flames, knock on wood, have not yet crested any of the ridges around me.
I called my wife on her cell after a couple of hours. She made it back home and we’ve remained behind the evacuation line. We did so to protect the place and to avoid being sent to the Q if we ventured out. I must have the wettest roof in Fallbrook by now.
For those thousands burned out and homeless across California, life will get much harder before it gets better. Your friends, family and colleagues will try to comfort you by saying that, at least, no one in your home was hurt or killed. Forgive them for what they say. They will never know or understand the difficulties that you have faced and will continue to face for years to come.
We find ourselves wondering if the Pala Mesa condo that we rented three and a half years ago as temporary housing was among those that burned. The unit owned by Harriet, our neighbor, had a wooden shake roof. She lacked the money then to replace her roof. I don’t know if she ever did.
As for me, lightning did not strike twice. The danger has seemed to pass and the authorities will eventually start letting the rest of my neighbors back home
I have learned to watch the hawks, the doves and the crows. They have shown me when to flee and when to return. We are all together now and safe. I pray you are, too.