Sunday, October 21

2003 Fires-- Redux into 2007?

With the recent news headline popping out from Southern California about wildfires spreading... there are two fires east of San Diego County. I got worried and called my mom-- she said it just made to the news, but nobody got the evacuation warning.... yet?

It triggered a flashback to 2003-- it was my first semester at the university and it occurred on Wednesday when the news broke a story about a wildfire spreading east of Julian (a mountain town, 40+ minutes from the downtown)... we didn't take it serious because we trusted our handy firefighters...

However little we did know our fire department was underfunded, understaffed, and under equipped.

In the end, there were 3 fires engulfing the eastern part of San Diego County and cornering us-- with Tijuana in Mexico or Pacific Ocean as our escapes. We were like sitting ducks, with no plans in our hand. We never handle wildfires of this magnitude.

To get an idea how the fire in 2003 spread, go to and choose to watch the most scary wildfire-- The Cedar Fire-- because in one SINGLE day, it spread rapidly, over many miles, into the San Diego City-- and the day I got evacuated.

The day was already yellowed and smokey. It seems as if the city is on fire but nobody can see the flames. The cars were coated with ashes... our windows were smeared with ashes... we were told to stay indoors. Classes all over the county were closed. Red Cross shelters went up at all local high schools/elementary schools.

We didn't have an escape plan. Then all suddenly police cars wailed to tell us to evacuate... we scrambled and packed in our car: me, my mother, my niece (who was 5 years old), and my cat... we didn't think about packing clothes nor taking important documents such as our passports et cetera. We just had to get out of our tinderbox home.

We had troubles to get out of our neighborhood. Our exits were all closed but one-- which consisted of two lanes street... and you factor in hundreds of cars trying to leave at once-- it was crazy. Cops had to guide us and control the traffic coming in from every directions-- all aim to leave westbound...

Once we left our bottlenecked neighborhood, I looked to my right and saw highway 52 bridge over freeway 15-- I was shocked. It was on fire-- and the flames were wild and restless. MY niece broke out in tears and cried for her parents.

We cannot even drop her with her parents (my brother)-- we were literally cornered. Freeway 15 north were closed off-- all 5 or 6 lanes in both directions. 805 and 5 were crowded and the police discouraged us to try to flee to north because there were more fires- (Palisades and the Los Angeles fires).

We were stuck.
And it was scary. Three days of being homeless and wandering around in wonder where the fire was exactly and how close was it to our homes.


And now fast-forward to year 2007-- we have learned our lessons-- we put more resources for our fire department and emergency services. We developed escape plans. We trimmed our dead and dry shrubs to keep 15 feet "border" around our homes. We keep a wide open eye for any small wildfire and pay attention if it is moving.

The Santa-Ana winds, gusting at 35mph and up to 60 in some areas, are making it difficult for the firefighters.

Right now, I am holding my breath and hoping our labor and wise decisions have enabled San Diego's fire department to stop the days of October 2003 happening all over again.

Inhaling... and holding....

pictures from 2003 fires in San Diego--

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