The beginning of the Rice Canyon inferno
Last updated 11/1/2007 at Noon
Official sources have confirmed that the Rice Canyon Fire was started by power lines in the early hours of Monday, October 22, in Rainbow. The fire began near what is referred to as “Dead Man’s Curve.”
While many were fast asleep in their beds, Kevin Martin, who resides on the east side of Highway 395 in Rainbow, was resting on his couch with the TV on. Between 3:30 and 3:45 a.m., the power outage awakened him. Kevin looked out the window to assess the other power outages in the area. When he cast his view to the east and two hills over, there were three blue flashes and an explosion.
“There was this blue glow all around that area, and then I saw the white smoke coming,” he said. “I knew there was a fire, so I immediately called 9-1-1.” As busy as the call center can be, staff picked up within a few rings, said Kevin. “The gal from 9-1-1 thanked me for the report and said if the fire started moving toward the house to evacuate.” During this time, Kevin called out to his wife, Debbie, who was sleeping. By the time she came to the window, a few transformers had already blown. The area she was staring at was Rice Canyon, which was about a mile and a half away. What she witnessed was an illuminating white/blue glow.
“There was no doubt in my mind it was a transformer that blew,”
said Debbie. Knowing that a fire had started in the area, Debbie and Kevin started to pack their important possessions, or, as Debbie calls them, the “Three Ps: Pets, Photographs and Papers.” “We started packing up in the morning because I got the feeling that we were going to have to evacuate,” said Kevin. “I honestly thought the fire was moving fast and was headed south. I watched it climb over the ridge; I thought that it wouldn’t make it over here.”
While the Martins packed, their eyes kept glancing out the window. The couple said that the winds were unpredictable. At 4:30 a.m., Debbie noticed that, about a mile away, the flames were higher than the 30-foot-tall Queen Anne palm trees. By mid-morning, Kevin was
hoping his part of Rainbow would be unaffected. At noon, a knock on the door from the sheriff’s department changed his mind. “They told me it was time to evacuate,” he said. At the Rice Fire Community
Presentation on October 28 at Fallbrook High School, Lieutenant
Alex Dominguez relayed a fire update phone call he received from a deputy at 4:20 a.m. the day of the fire.
He then listened to his sheriff’s department radio, hearing the other
officials exchanging information on how their visibility was limited
because of the smoke. Their voices were frantic, said Dominguez.
“I knew we had a problem and I knew there would be evacuations,”
he said. “The citizens were entrusting their homes to our care.”
The fire department came to the early morning scene in Rainbow
quickly and already the fire had burned three to five acres, said
Battalion Chief Steve Abbott. “The winds were strong and we had limited resources at that time,” Abbott said. Seven to eight hours later, the fire had spread to 500 more acres. “Our firefighters worked restlessly, beyond the point of fatigue and exhaustion,” said Abbott.
When the Martin family returned to their home in Rainbow later in the week, it was still standing but had sustained some fire/smoke damage.