Exhausted, on the way home from the San Jacinto Backpacking Trip, we took the back way, south from Idyllwild and through Anza and Aguanga, before we headed out east through south Temecula to the 15 and back into San Diego.
While driving through Anza, we started feeling the heavy winds buffeting our car. Suddenly, the day went dim and we were driving through a sand storm with very limited visibility. We slowed to a crawl until we made it out the other side. We passed an auto accident that undoubtedly was caused by the blowing debris. We even saw a tumbleweed the size of a small Christmas Tree roll leisurely across the road in front of us.
After that ordeal, we were approaching the town of Aguanga when we spotted a small fire off to the left of us high upon a hill. It seemed really small from a distance, but as we got closer, we realized that it was pretty close to the road. As we got closer, we saw that flames were rising high on either side of us and traffic was stopped. Getting nervous about getting trapped in a firestorm, the traffic finally started moving and we were out of it. Quite a harrowing experience.
It turns out that this was the Roca Fire(from Wikipedia):
The Roca Fire was reported around 3:52 p.m. on October 21 in the vicinity of SR-79 South at SR-371 in Aguanga. One home was destroyed and one injury was reported. It was 100% contained on October 22, after burning 270 acres.
We finally got back to the 15 and were heading south when we spotted a giant plume of smoke in the distance. We later learned that this was the Witch Creek fire, starting in the area of Ramona with the same name. Once we got home, we were treated to that same orange Mars glow that we were treated to almost four years ago to the day. One of us in the car described it as feeling like we were in a chimney.
We went to bed that night knowing that the fire was over 30 miles away. I woke up at around 3AM to check the news. I found out that the fire had traveled about 20 miles since sunset and was heading roughly towards us. To quote a local blogger, “Anytime your house is underneath a column of smoke, you are in the fire’s path.”
I woke up in the morning to find that the fire had crossed the 15 overnight and was in the western Escondido area and threatening Rancho Bernardo. The fire still decently far away, I slowly started loading up the car with our essentials. In an hour or so, since they had evacuated all the homes north of the 56, we decided to head to OC until this fire either burned our house down or was under control. We met up with our family down here and started a caravan up north. Given that the 5 was reportedly packed with evacuees, we decided to take a short cut following El Camino Real through Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Encinitas, and Carlbad. We got turned around for a bit and made our way without incident.
We encountered residents evacuating their horses, a surreal sight of orange empty street of Rancho Santa Fe with horses in them. Coming to El Camino Real in Encinitas, we noticed some horses at a local strip mall, grazing on the small patches of grass near the sidewalk.
We made it to OC and stayed with family, frustrated with the Malibu-only coverage there. With the help of some blogs we were able to keep up to date of the situation, although the information flow could have been more quickly and consistently disseminated. We received a fowarded call from the reverse 911 system notifying us that our house in San Diego was in a mandatory evacuation zone. Since our neighborhood is one of the few that are south of the 56 in our area, our house was in a grey zone that was never officially cleared for a lifting of the evacuation. After feeling comfortable that the fire was contained, we made our way home on Wednesday, two days after leaving. The fire got about 2 miles away from our house, which was a lot closer than last time. All was well for us, but many people weren’t so lucky. Reports indicated that over 900,000 people evacuated due to the several fires in Southern California, the largest evacuation in California.
Overall, the response and organization was miles ahead of how everything was handled four years ago.