I awoke this morning before sunrise. I do not know what woke me, but I had a bad feeling. Was that smoke in the air? I turned on the coverage on TV and started checking the county emergency websites. As the sun rose, I saw everything through a dull rosy glow. I went out into the eerie light. I noticed the skies were no longer clear. The air was smoky and it was lightly snowing ash.
I walked around the quiet property taking some pictures for my 365 Project.
That is the sun coming up, not a fire as I first feared.
As I walked the property I noticed I could hear a lot of noise and commotion up on the hill above us. I went back to check the news and heard that a new fire had begun just behind us to the east (remember the Santa Ana’s blow east to west). I went over to see about waking Cousin It and as I approached his house he came out the door saying that Krackers’ mom was on the phone and she heard there was a fire in Valley Center and asked if I had heard that. I told him I did and that I was going to wake Mr. Vixen and pack the boxes into the van.
I woke Mr. Vixen and we walked back towards Cousin It’s house. The sun was really coming up then and it was very red.
Just as we approached Cousin Its’ home five or six cars came flying down the hill and stopped outside our gate. I started running and hollering to someone to open the gate. As we passed the gate the three of us were surprised to see all the neighbors from up the hill with all their stuff. One of them said to my husband, “Did you get the reverse 911 call?” We said no. She said, “Well, we all did and its time to get out now!”
You don’t have to tell this mommy something like that twice. I was sprinting to MacDougal’s house before she finished her sentence. MacDougal and Sparkles were up because MacDougal’s boss had called and told him she heard there was a fire near us. Apparently they had just turned on the TV to check it out when according to them I burst through the front door and yelled “We got the call evacuate NOW!”
I ran over to Cousin Its’ house where Nannygoat, Lloyd, Ladybug, and Butterball had spent the night in his daughter’s room. The damn door was locked and I had to bang and bang. I thought I was going to have to break it down. Nannygoat finally opened the door and I relayed the immediate need for evacuation (her second now). Then I ran off to wake up Fishboy and Bear.
As I gathered up our family pictures (still in boxes and plainly marked from the move-yeah for never unpacking). Mr. Vixen gathered our medications. I grabbed some clothes, important papers, laptop, camera and cords. Mr. Vixen got the pups in their crates. I kept asking him for help and he kept wandering back to the barn. I guess stress affects everyone differently and he felt the need to say farewell to the yellow toilet. Finally, I told him if he didn’t get in the car, we were going to leave without him. We were loaded and ready to rock. PT Cruiser (Cousin It and Krackers and their dog Taz); Nissan Quest (Vixen and three dogs); Camaro (MacDougal and his dog and Funsize’s bird); Honda Civic (Funsize and her dog); Sebring (Mr. Vixen); Camry (Fishboy, Bear, their dog and three geckos); Miata (Sparkles and his cat); Escort (Nanny, Lloyd, Ladybug, and Butterball). We lined up at the gate and someone said, “Where are we going?” And I said, “Very good question.” Cousin It was in front and he knows the area north up the 15 better than all of us so he picked an exit and said he would lead.
Off we went. Down to the main road that leads to the freeway. And there we stopped. There are only three ways into our area and two of them were closed due to fires. So the entire valley was on the same road. We slowly made our way down the hill. I snapped these pictures while we inched our way down.
Good thing we were driving slowly because between answering the cell phone and trying to keep a news radio station tuned in, I had very little time for steering. Nannygoat called telling me the freeway we were going to was closed and asking what we would do. Every time police or fire trucks screamed up the hill with their sirens blasting, Bear called me and asked where I thought they were going. MacDougal called and said is car was overheating and I told him to put it in neutral and coast. Cousin It called and asked what we should do if they wouldn’t let us on the freeway.
The radio kept announcing that evacuees should call 211 for emergency information. I called. I waited on hold for 12 minutes. Finally a volunteer asked what I needed. I explained I was being evacuated and I was almost to I15 and I needed to know where we were supposed to go. She asked a few questions about what road I was on and said she found me on the map. She put me on hold to ask where we should go. She came back on and said the I15 freeway was closed in both directions. I said, “Well there are several hundred cars ahead of me and they are going somewhere.” She put me on hold again. When she came back she said, “Hello, emergency services. How may I assist you?” I swallowed the scream building in my throat and explained to her again. She asked for my zip code and put me on hold again. When she returned, she stated I should go to the evacuee center in Campo. I laughed; a quiet, semi-hysterical laugh. “Ma’am,” I stuttered, “Campo is at least 90 miles from where I am and I would have to drive through the two biggest fires in the history of California (Witch and Harris) to get there. That is not going to work. Listen to me, please. I am about ½ a mile from the I15 and I need to know which way to go, north or south?’ Her response was, “I am sorry ma’am, but you can’t go on the 15, its closed.” At which point I lost it and screamed “Fine, I will just follow the thousand people in front of me. They must be going somewhere.” Then I hung up.
Just before the freeway, there is a little group of homes with many signs and flashing lights warning motorists that this is a ‘Traffic Calmed Area’ and to ‘Reduce Your Speed to 45’. We had yet to manage over 4 mph. As I hung up on emergency services, I received a text message from MacDougal. It read: “Good thing we hit the “traffic calmed area” we were going entirely too fast.” Perfect timing, as I needed a good laugh.
We got to the freeway and there were all kinds of CHP. They directed us north. Directly into the Rice fire, which had flared up this morning and was jumping across the I15, the road we had to drive on. As we went along, the fear put me in to shock and I went on autopilot. Not just any autopilot, but Hey, this is gonna make a great blog autopilot. So I started taking pictures of the fires that were on either side of me to distract myself from the screaming voice in my head that was saying: Hey you are driving THROUGH A FIRE stupid. And all you love (your kids, husband and grandkids) are in those cars in front of you driving THROUGH A FIRE.
Right side of car:
Left side of car:
We finally arrived at the AM/PM as planned. Everyone poured out of their cars and headed for the restrooms. Of course, the restrooms were out of order. As the kids went across the street my mother and my father both called. I told them we were ok and were trying to figure out where to go. Cousin It called a friend in the area and we decided to head to their house so the dogs could get out for a bit while we tried to find a motel. As we readied ourselves for departure a homeless guy approached me. He asked if I could spare some change. I said no, I was just evacuated and I really don’t have anything on me. He said “But I really need a beer.” To which Mr. Vixen replied, “So do I buddy, so do I.”
We stopped at McDonalds for breakfast. As we gathered up everyone, I noticed that Nannygoat was still in her pajamas wandering around the parking lot. That stopped me in my tracks. All I could think was how little time we had to prepare for this journey.
Funsize’s mom called to say there was a Motel 6 in Temecula taking in evacuees with animals. We called them and got directions. Then our eight car caravan began a trek that lasted longer than the entire initial evacuation as we got lost three separate times. You should see us trying to make lights without losing people only to drive around and around to have to find a place to pull over and call for directions again. It seems they kept forgetting to include roads. Turns out we drove past it three times but didn’t see it despite the giant sign:
We finally found it and they claimed there was no room at the inn. My aunt went online in Hawaii and lo and behold she was able to secure reservations. We walked back in and they said the rooms would not be ready for at least three hours. In the parking lot, we gazed south and could see the smoke from the inferno we had just fled:
We were a pretty ragged looking bunch:
I went next door to a mini market/smoke shop to get some soda and snacks (and beer and wine). When I went up to check out the guy behind the counter says “Are you one of them from down there?” I assume I was still in shock because I had no idea what he was talking about and for a minute I just stared at him. Then it dawned on me and I said “Are you asking if I am an evacuee? Yes, I am.” He asked if we were all ok and when I told him we were all fine, he wished me luck. Nice guy. When I got back to the room I asked everyone “Do I look like an evacuee?” and they all said “YES” I will get them back for that some day.
We met many other evacuees and their animals that evening as we spent most of our time taking the dogs in and out. Everyone was so nice despite their fear and loss. I was exhausted but unable to sleep. We crammed into one of the four rooms, watched CNN, and ate pizza. It was a long night.