Friday, October 26, 2007

The Day My City Burned – Firestorm 2007

Here I sit determined to issue my November newsletter with detracting flashes of orange and red fireballs lapping at the windows, blasts of heat from marching flames, bent on a relentless attack of the citizens of San Diego County. Fires surged for miles and miles, starting in the rolling countryside of Ramona, California, a lovely place in the peaceful foothills to retire and grow horses – so we thought.

This is the second time in four years that wildfires mocked our usual casual disregard for earthquakes, the nationally known California malady. It seems that when high pressure centers over Nevada it casts and evil spell over Southern California in the form of high velocity, hot winds from the east. Once we reached 4% humidity or less, the brush explodes. There is some sinister plot to all of this, some shadowy specter that delights in fire, like some crazed arsonist. This time the fires broke out in several places from Malibu, through San Bernardino, down through the back country east of San Diego, all the way to the border of Mexico and beyond. It had orders to march to the coast and burn everything in sight, driven by hurricane level winds.

I sat for hours staring at the TV, watching the evading army’s front lines advance into our lands and reflected on various cultures that have had their Huns and Cossacks burn their way through their villages over the course of history. Certainly the Poles know what it’s like. So have the many in Afghanistan, Iraq, and most of Africa. The fire bombing of Japan in World War II was terrifying for a culture that lived in wood and paper houses. The people of Dixieland when Sherman marched to the coast certainly felt the horror.

You know the event unfolding before you is serious when it can be seen on Google maps drawn from satellite images in outer space. When smoke and ash reach out into the Pacific close enough to Hawaii to hear Ukuleles, it’s big. Sometimes it overpowers you and tears well up, fear catches in your throat, and you ask yourself, when will it end?

The amazing bright spot in all of this was the reaction of the citizens of San Diego. They said to themselves as they awoke to smoke filled eyes and a horizon lined with flames, we are not going to let this become our Katrina; we will not stand by and watch our citizens suffer. The evacuation centers were a model of what can happen when those that made it through unscathed, reach out and help their neighbors in need. The outpouring of food and common needs to comfort was remarkable. Even teachers, musicians, and hospital care givers arrived on the scene as those displaced poured into parking lots of the evacuation centers to be there for the children and older citizens that arrived with a dazed look in their eyes. Dozens of semitrailer trucks with common brand names painted on the side, circled their wagon around their people, all donated from private sources, not the government. Maybe mankind has some hope yet.

Is it a coincidence that each time these fires happen, it occurs in October, on the eve of Halloween? I don’t mean to scare you, but I don’t think so. Remember the big fire started in Witch Creek Canyon. Halloween is evil’s celebration dance for rotten deeds done to the innocent. When I hand out candy to those pint sized, cheerful little demons this season, I won’t forget that the specter is watching from a limb of a tree, leering down saying, “You may have foiled me this time, but October rolls around once a year – beware.”