I've been asked by numerous people for this note I sent to friends & family today, recounting the madness surrounding the fires that came swooping down upon our home early this morning. So I thought this would be a good place to post it, despite it not really being a Dreamented Thought ;-)
Happy Monday ;-)
For those who weren't aware, my wife, Zulu and I went through a pretty hectic day today and I thought you'd be interested in the details. And fortunately I wanted to first let you know that things are OK and we're back in our home as of 3:00 this afternoon (although our neighborhood is still officially evacuated). I apologize for not being able to call you directly to give you updates, but hopefully we'll have a landline soon (cell phone is always a challenge for me here at home, though it works perfectly at work). We had no real way of communication throughout the day save for Twitter and texting - which I tried to use as much as possible and which, apparently, got word to most of you.
Guess I can't say officially that Twitter saved my life, but it sure sounds good ;-)
I have to admit that we didn't really interpret Zulu's advanced warning system all that well, as we attributed his incessant barking all night long to the teething phase that he's currently going through and his absolute dislike of helicopters (which were buzzing all night long).
Little did we know that Zulu was actually saying, "Umm, excuse me, but do you smell something?"
Apparently the fires started last night a few miles away from us, and they were supposedly under control until the Santa Ana winds kicked up overnight and turned the small flames into a rip-roaring blaze.
We awoke this morning around 6:00am to Zulu still barking up a storm at what my wife called "uncharacteristically heavy air traffic." But we just pulled our pillows over our heads and prayed for another hour or so of sleep before starting the new week. Around 7:00am there came a pounding on our door where a police officer – who must have scaled our gate or fence (for the gate was closed) – was quickly telling us that there was a mandatory evacuation going on in our neighborhood. My wife asked him why and he said, "because your backyard is on fire."Which it basically was:
This was our first view of what Monday had in store for our neighborhood.I think both of us were in something of a state of shock as it wasn't until much later that we realized just how hellish everything was all around us. Everywhere you looked firefighters were descending upon our 'hood, helicopters were strafing the hills with water, and people were running in and out of their homes and stuffing things into their cars. Interesting to be put in a position of great anxiety and rushed determination where you must decide exactly what to take with you and what will be left behind. For us, we just threw a bunch of clothes into two bags as well as wrapped up our computers, grabbed a tub of kibble for Zulu and threw it all in the back of our two cars.
I remember feeling the ash in my throat as I began to lose my voice breathing in the smoke - still moving in surprisingly ordered fashion and in a sort of packing dance with my wife - all the while Zulu sat in his crate, still barking at all of the commotion.
This time I knew exactly what he was saying: "See? Told ya so!"
As we were finishing packing up the cars, the fire chief came onto our property and told us that they would like to use our property as a place to "make a last stand," stating that we had the best clearance (we'd hired a crew some months back to fire-proof our backyard to up to 300 feet) and view of the fires thanks to our back door literally butting right up to mountains - as well as the fire. I suppose you couldn't ask for a better tidbit of info - knowing that should the fire get too close, our home would be where they all gathered to fight it.
He then asked if we could leave the garage door unlocked in case they needed to use it as shelter.
I think that was when I began to get a glimpse of just how serious this was. Anytime a fireman asks you if they can use your garage as shelter if need be, you know its time to get out and let them do their jobs.
As I was heading back to to the house after packing a few extra things in the cars, here was the view:
The fire basically came up and over the ridge of the mountain - in a line from left to right - and we were told that, at times, the flames were up to 20 feet high.
In the end, it probably took us 30 minutes to get ourselves out of the house, into our cars and headed down the hill towards the highway.This was the last thing I saw before leaving.
We had no idea where we were going, but I realized very quickly - as my wife's car began to get separated from mine amidst all of the hectic traffic - that we first and foremost needed to stay together in one car.About 3 miles from our house and adjacent to the freeway, we parked in a Denny's lot (where my wife & Zulu piled into my SUV) to gather ourselves, and listen to the radio reports pouring in. Not to mention to try to figure out our next steps (My wife was already looking forward to some zzzzz's at the Langham Huntington Resort that is about an hour from us).
But as we sat there and everything all around us was getting more and more frenetic as the morning moved onward, we started to think about the possibility that we might not be able to get back into our neighborhood for a couple of days (assuming there was something to go back to) - not to mention that just listening to the developments on the radio was not making us feel very comforted. And since we knew the hills in our area well (thanks to Zulu walks), we decided to work our way through back roads, back to the general area of our home, and found a spot high in the hills where we could watch the fire and the activity buzzing all around it first hand.
Fortunately, the winds were with us throughout the morning, as they ended up blowing the fire south west instead of due west (which would have been very bad for us) - and by 2:00-ish the flames had subsided dramatically as the fire had burned itself right down to the bottom of the mountains where the fire fighters had built a line of 10-foot high dirt mounds to stop it.
The timing seemed to be perfect, as two other fires had popped up elsewhere in the general area (5 to 10 miles away) and many of the firefighters around our neighborhood moved to fight the new flames.Which allowed us to make our move and slip back into our home and survey what little damage had been done. We were very fortunate - as was our entire neighborhood - as the only damage was caused by soot and ash that seemed to have found its way into every nook and cranny. Below is a photo of the fire working its way down to the very bottom of the mountains - where it finally went out - at least on the surface.
They say we're not out of the woods yet, as things have a way of occasionally kicking up again until all of the embers deep beneath the surface are finally extinguished - which could take a few days. In fact, as we look out back right now, there's a large plume of smoke rising from the other side of the mountains - which means there's more burning back out of our line of sight. But we're feeling pretty OK about everything now that we've had a chance to sit down and take all of it in. No question it could have been much worse and we were extremely fortunate to have been spared by the fires.
I can't imagine it having been able to get any closer than it did without turning this into a disaster for us.Our thoughts go out to those who are not yet out of the woods, as these fires are still raging all around this area.
And if they ask us to leave again, so be it. But for the time being, its the best feeling in the world just to be back in our home, together, and soot-free.
While the business side of me is nourished at Dreamentia, here you'll find simple, random personal thoughts stemming from our unfortunate double-encounter with the 2008 Fires in Sylmar, California. After a failed first attempt in October, the fires came back again one month later to finish the job they were clearly determined to complete. It took me a few months to finally be able to write about it, so now I hope to chronicle our rebuild as we journey down the long, winding path of a rebirth.