The fire’s final toll, of course, will be much larger than the grim statistics which included at last count over 3,400 homes reduced to ash.
What a horrible experience that must be, walls of 30-foot, hot swirling flames surround you, devouring everything you can see. To feel the experience of Hell on earth. You have a few minutes to look around at your whole life and decide what you can take. Imagining the charred remains of anything that you can’t. A neighbor told me in San Clemente’s ’75 fire, one lady was so panicked that she ran out of the house with nothing but a bread box, and no idea why.
Most people I’ve talked with tell me the first thing they would take (after all family members, I assume) would be their photographs. It was far and away the number one response in my unofficial poll. It’s no real surprise. Photographs are the visual recordings of our lives, hard copes of cherished memories that provide irreplaceable archives of the people and places that helped to define who we are.
I started taking pictures in 1969, when my mom’s boss gave me an old 35 MM Agfa camera and the requisite light meter. I was 12. I became the family photographer. It wasn’t long before we turned an upstairs bathroom into a makeshift darkroom and I started developing my own memories in black and white. Oh, the pictures I have, oh the massive, unorganized boxes of dog-eared pictures I have. I must have recorded 3/4 of my life on photosensitive paper, as well as most of my friends and family. My children's whole lives are in boxes, from their first breath on. And then there’s that nasty little habit of never throwing any away. I would need a truck to escape a fire, and another one for the disks of computer files I’ve collected since my camera went digital five years ago. I shouldn’t take such poor care of things that are important to me.
Writing is important to me, too. I once had what I consider now a rather pathetic piece of poetry published in an eighth grade school newsletter. They gave me an American Heritage award and made me read it in front of the school. It began a lifelong desire to record my thoughts (and accounted for my deathly fear of public speaking). My father once told me to never throw away anything I had ever written, leaving me today with another firehazard of unorganized boxes. I kept journals up until the day I started publishing one.
For the last eight years I have had the pleasure of putting pictures and words together in the creation of The San Clemente Journal. I believe it has become that one thing that I was born to do. And I wish to sincerely thank all those who have helped us make it happen. Our writers and photographers are lending their talents, to record for today and for history, the never-ending story of this city that I am so proud to call home.
The Holidays will hopefully provide us all time to show appreciation for all the people we love. Take time for the important things. Too often it takes devastating tragedies like an uncontrolled fire to help put things in perspective, to encourage us to take the time to take care of the people and things that we cannot replace.
I might even have to organize my pictures.
Have a Happy Holiday!!!
Don R. Kindred