September 17, 2022
The Fairview fire near Hemet, California, grew quickly in the first day.
A combination of 110° temperatures, extreme dryness, rugged territory and a chaparral which had not burned for many decades caused the fire to burn out of control. It rushed up the foothill canyons stripping the earth of all vegetation and life.
The fire created its own ecology. Tornados of flame reached upward to 700 feet.
Cumulous clouds were created by the smoke. Sadly, they were not rain clouds. The fire ran so fast that a family was overcome and burned alive in their fleeing car.
The most frightening thing for me was that the fire was coming my way. Each day the fire grew by 10,000 acres.
I saw the smoke clearly from my front yard. It looked so close I went down the street to a vantage point where my neighbors live.
It was sunset on the second day of the fire. I stood with my neighbors, looking out over the adjacent Reed Valley. On the far ridge of the valley were flames.
A wind coming out of the east was pushing the fire slightly to our left flank, but if it dropped into Reed Valley there was nothing but dry vegetation between the fire and our homes.
I checked the evacuation maps on my phone. Our neighborhood was now in an evacuation warning zone (yellow). This meant that we should prepare to evacuate.
Paula and I loaded up the motor home with food, supplies, go-bag, documents, backup drives and a few pieces of memorabilia. We made a list of last minute items to load in the RV and truck:
Cat carriers and cats.
Computer and iPads.
Keys, ID and phones.
There was a tropical storm named Hurricane Kay in Mexico running up the Pacific Coast. Its cyclone stretched into Arizona and its edges came down through our area. Weather forecasts predicted rain and high winds for the next day.
Firemen were both hopeful of the rain assist and dreading the predicted 100 mile per hour winds, mud and landslides.
I prayed that the storm would blow the fire away from my house to the west. Was this wrong? There are hundreds of thousands of people in Temecula, to the west. Should my prayer be answered and all those other prayers be ignored?
The next day the fire had grown to 30,000 acres and was now approaching on our right flank as well, threatening the nearby town of Anza. We were about to be surrounded.
At 5pm we were issued an evacuation order. This meant to leave the area as quickly as possible. It took us about an hour until we could drive away.
As I drove the RV out of its parking area I ran over a loose stump. The RV dragged to a stop. The stump was wedged between the tire and the body of the motor home. Struggling to stay calm, I got the sledge hammer from the garage and removed the stump. The RV was drivable and we were on our way.
When we drove past the lake toward the community gate the tenor of our normally peaceful neighborhood had changed. Sheriff helicopters flew over houses encouraging the evacuation. Water dropping helicopters were hovering over the lake sucking up water to be used on the fire.
At the intersection of our two major mountain highways the sheriffs were checking IDs and letting only urgent residents in to assist with their family’s evacuations.
We made it to town uneventfully. We pulled into the Walmart parking lot intending to only stay that night. There were already a dozen RVs parked there. Five minutes after we parked a security guard told us that the manager had ordered all us evacuees to leave.
“You can try the parking lot across the street, but you can’t stay here,” said the guard.
“I thought that Walmart always welcomed overnight RVers,” I said.
“We are expecting a lot of RVs tonight, from the fire. Too many.”
“Exactly,” I said.
“Where is your compassion?” I thought.
We left for the parking lot of the skydiving center where we knew we would be welcome.
When we arrived at the parking lot it was still very hot. I tried to start the generator so I could run the air conditioner. The generator would not start. It was the one thing that I had not checked while preparing to evacuate.
The next morning I contacted a local RV service center. This service center normally makes appointments three months in advance. When I explained my situation as an evacuee the service manager told me to come right in. The service yard was overflowing with vehicles.
Three of the RVs were fire department units that needed urgent care. Many belonged to evacuees like myself. A couple hours later we were repaired. I expressed my gratitude. The service manager said, “We have to help each other out in times of need.” Compassionate.
I found a campground to stay in for the next few days. They offered us a “fire discount”. Nice, more compassion. The cats climatized to the RV quite well. They even got along with each other.
The rain that day pulled back the perimeter of the fire on all sides. Containment increased from 5% to 40%. Our evacuation status changed from “orders” back to “warning.” Temecula was no longer threatened.
We stayed in the campground for another couple of days, giving the firefighters room to work.
It seems that all the prayers were answered. Losses were limited to acres of chaparral and sadly, wildlife habitat.
When we returned to the neighborhood the water dropping helicopters were still shuttling between our lake and the fire hot spots. The following video shows the devastation in nearby valleys.
What a relief to see our little red house on the ridge, just as it should be.
It is nice to be home.
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