I received this picture on October 24th, in an early morning email from photographer Dev Gregory. It had been taken the night before and from the perspective of his lens it looked like the fires I had just seen on the morning news were already in San Clemente. It startled me enough to take my own camera and walk up the hill to the water tower off Avenida Salvador. Like others I would see on the trail, I wanted to know how close it was.
On a clear day from the top, one might see all the way to San Diego. This morning, I could barely see the sun, glowing like an orange ball in a brown sky filled with dust and soot. No flames, the fire was farther south and posed no immediate threat. But the devastation of the smoke and dirt carried by hot Santa Ana winds choked off the sky. Schools were closed, games were cancelled, meetings rescheduled. The 5 freeway was temporarily shut down. By evening, there were 26 fires in California and the moon rose full, shining eerily similar in color to the noon day’s sun.
While the fires had spared us, they took our neighbors. In round numbers, 1,000,000 people were asked to evacuate. At least 2,000 families and homeowners lost the right to go back. Their houses were charred down to driveways and chimneys as 50-foot walls of indiscriminate hell laid waste to half a million acres of Southern California real estate.
San Clementeans, like always, stepped forward to fill the coffers of local shelters. We gave so much, at one point we were asked to stop. The donations had exceeded the places to put them. Our homes, our state parks and our hotels were opened and filled with those who had packed their most important assets to seek the safety of distance, not sure of what, if anything, they would have to go back to.
As we watched the footage of the devastation, I suspect that at some point, each of us found ourselves asking the same question. “What would we take if we had to evacuate?”
With only a few short, panic-filled moments to take care of family and pets, evaluate everything we own, then make the crucial decision as to which would go, which would remain for certain incineration.
I used to joke that our motto around here was Aniticpate Disaster, because of the problems we had at start up 12 years ago, now it sounds like good advice.
Our hearts go out to all of those affected by the wildfires this holiday season, and to the rest of us who have been given another reminder to be thankful for the things that we have, and the people we love..
Don R. Kindred