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When the winds came
The wrath of the winds fell on us
If we had paid attention we would have noticed the birds. The big black crows and the smallish wrens and sparrows were flying away,
escaping the area. Even the aggressive red-tailed hawks were taking flight. On the ground, cottontail rabbits, shaggy coyotes, rats,
pumas and even the rattlesnakes were heading for safer ground. They searched for a safe arroyo. The animals didn’t reason, they just
knew that something was wrong and getting worse by the minute.
Humans took longer to decide, to run, to save themselves.
The skies had started to fill with the results of the fires. Un-natural clouds were forming low in the heavens..
The winds were shredding
the trees of their leaves. As the leaves gathered in bunches on the ground they would provide the tinder for the fires that would
Pet dogs cocked their heads, listening to the increasing howl of the winds growing stronger by the minute.
Some called the winds “The Santa Ana,” others refer to it as “The Santana” winds, the “Winds of Satan.”
The weather experts
predicted that “The Santa Ana” winds were coming to Southern California.
The “Santa Ana” winds are caused by the build up
in the high altitude Great Basin between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The powerful winds pour out of the Great Basin
and are pulled by gravity into the lands below. The blowing air circulates clockwise around the high pressure area, bringing winds
from the east and northeast to Southern California.
The air heats up during its descent and warms in its final stages. The
air is then forced down the mountain slopes out towards the Pacific coast. The air mass is further heated by compression as it drops
in altitude before reaching north of the Los Angeles basin and south to San Diego County, going as far south as Tijuana.
Sunday morning broke and the animals and the birds sensed something different in the atmosphere. A group of churchgoers walked from
the sanctity of their house of worship and sniffed at the air. An older couple looked at each other as though saying, “Something’s
A meteorologist peered upwards, noting the leaves blowing like miniature, crazy kites. He hadn’t wanted to set a
panic, but he had seen the dangerous combination of strong winds, very low humidity and escalating temperatures. He officially set
“Red Flag Fire Conditions.”
A fireman and his wife left after their church service, he held his daughter’s hand as they walked
and had a feeling that this would be a long day and night.
A young couple, leaving their local supermarket, hurried to their
parked car, anxious to get back to their newly purchased home in Rancho Bernardo.
A 67-year old woman, not wanting to wake
her sleeping husband, quietly raised the bedroom window of their small home in Ramona and smelled the acrid soot and ash that filled
air. She quickly slammed the window shut, waking her husband.
Local television stations began extraordinary breaking news
coverage. Regular programming was cancelled as reporters were sent out to cover the increasing number of “hot spots” around Southern
California from Arrowhead to the Mexican border.
Firemen and police were called back from vacations and days off.
By Sunday afternoon homes were burning down. Telephones were ringing, alive with questions, “Have you heard…,” “Are you packing,”
“Get out now.” Police and firemen were knocking on doors throughout Southern California, instructing residents to leave immediately.
Firestorms had erupted in the rugged wilderness of the towering San Bernardino Mountains. Isolated canyon communities in Orange County
were ablaze. Fifty miles east of San Diego the quaint town of Julian was endangered.
Down south, by the Mexican border,
in Potrero, Tecate, in Deerhorn Valley, the “Harris Fire” raged.
The “Witch Creek Fire” began its terrifying tempest through,
Ramona, San Diego Country Estates, San Pasqual, Escondido and Rancho Bernardo.
North, fires raged in Ventura County, Santa
Barbara County, Orange County. The “Ranch Fire” in Los Angeles County, the “Slide Fire” in Santa Barbara County. The “Canyon Fire”
in Malibu forced 1,500 people to flee, including many of Hollywood’s elite. To many it seemed like all of California was engulfed
Eventually the “Poomacha Fire” met and combined with the “Witch Creek Fire.”
The “Rice Canyon Fire”
burned hundreds of homes in Fallbrook.
Flames threatened the Palomar Observatory.
Early Monday morning the situation
grew worse. The fires were spreading. People fled for their lives. Hundreds had already been evacuated from Ramona. Homes by the score
were burning in Rancho Bernardo. By Tuesday everything got worse. There was talk of the “Witch Creek Fire” burning through Escondido,
Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, Del Mar and on to Solana Beach, stopping only at the Pacific Ocean.
largest evacuation began. Over 560,000 would be forced from their homes in San Diego County alone. Qualcomm Stadium, home to the San
Diego Chargers, was used as a foster home for evacuees. Ten thousand displaced souls used Qualcomm Stadium as bedroom, bathroom and
The flames grew higher. Satellite photos illustrated the breadth of the calamity. The darkened skies were filling
with ash, soot and smoke. Breathing became difficult and dangerous all over Southern California.
Firemen came from all over
America to assist the locals. Thursday brought unimaginable damage, as did Friday.
Finally, Saturday brought a glimmer of
hope. The winds slowed.
By Sunday sketches of containment were offered and the brave firemen were given some hope, some
The meteorologist announced that the “Santa Ana” winds were gone for now. The fireman still hadn’t seen his family
since a week ago Sunday. The young couple returned to where their home once stood – now merely a pile of ashes and memories.
The older woman in Ramona had to keep her bedroom window closed, but she was thankful that her home remained standing.
television stations only gave fire reports on the hour. Regular programming was returning to the airwaves.
On the ground,
the rabbits, coyotes, rats, pumas, rattlesnakes and their brethren held fast as they waited for the ground to cool.
air, crows, sparrows and wrens once again flew – trying to avoid the clouds of soot and ash.
Slowly, the survivors looked
up and saw the sun shining and small, growing clear areas of blue sky.
Hope was returning.