Close Call Spurs Fire Refugee to Give Thanks

As the four of us climbed into my boyfriend’s Honda Accord I
felt a rush of adventure — we were going to drive into the fire’s den to get
back to our evacuated house. Or try to, at least.

But it’s easier said than done. My father, sitting in the
passenger seat, was wearing an FBI hat he bought during our last trip to
Universal Studios. He lives off of Highway 67 and less than a mile from Poway Road; The
area had been cut off from access for days with roads leading to our house
heavily barricaded and policed.

As we approached the roadblock my hands grew clammy — there
was no way we would pull this off. My dad got out with his knock-off FBI hat
on, and walked right up to the officer as if he owned the place. They exchanged
some words, after which the officer said, “I’m sorry boss, but I can’t even let
you in, not with those civilians in the car.”

We had been rejected and would have to return to our
temporary digs, not knowing if our house was still standing. But somehow, in
the midst of chaos and apprehension, there was a refreshing element of humor.
There we were, concocting outlandish stories for the police in an attempt to
get back home. How had we gotten here? I thought back to the start of the week.

Early in the morning on Oct. 22, I awoke in an indescribable
panic to a call from my editor telling me school had been canceled for the day
— there were several developing fires in the northeast portion of the county.

My thoughts immediately went to my dad, whose house had
burned in the 2003 Cedar Fires under a previous owner. Scrambling for my
computer with one ear glued to the radio, I frantically searched for news for
anything to quell the fear, but the information was just too scattered. All I
could gather was that my parents were under mandatory evacuation — something
they had yet to mention. So without any hesitation I picked up the phone.

“Dad, what’s going on? Where’s the fire? Why haven’t you
left yet?”

My parents were at their house and weren’t leaving. My dad was outside with a
generator, pump and fire hose, draining the water out of the pool to douse the surrounding area in liquid, in an
effort to deter the fire should it approach the house.

And so, against the wishes of my parents, I set out for
Poway, determined to reach them and convince them to leave their increasingly
threatened home. Cruising through deserted freeways, I was haunted by an eerie
feeling; No one wants to see their city looking like a ghost town.

When I reached Poway, however, the sight worsened. Fallen
trees lined the streets and flames engulfed the hillside near my parents’
house. It was like hell on earth.

Nearing the house, I was confronted with a crew of police
officers blocking the road to Highway 67 and directing drivers away from the
fire zone. With no other choice, I pulled into a nearby parking lot filled with
officers and spectators. I stood on the street watching flames bud on the hill
as helicopters arrived to drop retardents. For the next three hours I waited
for my parents to come down the hill, and when they finally did I met them with
the greatest sigh of relief I’ve ever had.

The rest of the week was spent in much the same manner —
waiting. Waiting after I got the call that my mother was also forced to leave
her home in Rancho Santa Fe. Waiting as news rolled in that close friends and
family had lost their homes. Waiting as the plumes grew larger and the hope
grew dimmer. Waiting at the corner of Highway 67 and Poway Road as cops and
National Guardsmen armed with shotguns staved off frustrated civilians
clamoring to get back home.

The end could not have come soon enough. Our house had
survived. After all the waiting we could finally go home; never had I felt so
lucky. And as I drove back through the mountainous roads to my father’s house I
realized just how fortunate we had been. Charred lands surrounded the area less
than half a mile from the house and with each passing hour came another tragic
story of a family home lost to the fire.

I cannot begin to comprehend the loss that many have
undergone this past week, but their strength has not ceased to impress me. The
road ahead is long, but if there’s anything to be learned from the disaster,
it’s that family and friends will always get us through. And that imitation FBI
paraphernalia is surprisingly believable.

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