On October 13, 2008–the only day that I forgot to take my cell phone to the school where I teach–a large brush fire started a few miles from our house and worked its way closer while I worked unaware. My wife, at her office, was able to see the smoke and hear the radio reports, but when she called me, it went straight to voice mail, because–duh–I’d forgotten my phone.
However, seeing the smoke during a break between classes, I borrowed a student’s phone to call Mamie, who told me our neighborhood was on standby for evacuation. I notified my supervisor and hurried home with three of my students, who helped us prepare for the approaching fire by dousing the exterior wood of our house with a garden hose, and packing essentials into our car for rapid evacuation.
Following is what we saw when we stood in our front yard. The house in the photo is across the street.
We sat tensely in our house, watching the fire come closer, and listening for calls to evacuate. After nightfall I went out with my camera and tripod. The next shots show the far side of Aliso Canyon.
I hiked to where the firefighters were holding the fire at the edge of Aliso Canyon. The wind was whipping up, blowing embers in the direction of our house; if the fire went into the canyon, it could quickly get within yards of our front door.
Well, later that night the fire jumped the line and leapt its way down Aliso Canyon, finally reaching a corner near our house at around 4 AM, when a police car went up our street making its siren go “WhoOOOP! WhoOOOP! WhoOOOP!” As we ran from the house and into our waiting cars (already stuffed with precious photos, guitars, computers, financial records, etc.), we saw a five-story-high wall of flames a few dozen yards from our front yard! The smoke was so thick we could hardly breathe, and red-hot embers were raining down in a blizzard of hellfire. Driving off in swirling smoke and embers, we honestly doubted we would ever see our house again.
Fortunately, the firefighters did a great job. The next morning, when we drove back, we found our house unharmed! California’s firefighters rock! So do my students!