Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Diego is On Fire

Mount Soledad. The fire is in Rancho Bernardo.

So it’s day 3 of “Firestorm 2007” as one local station has branded it. I’ve been meaning to post something about the fires since day 1 when I first figured out how serious it was, but I haven’t been able to keep my mind together to get it done. Between the calls, text messages and e-mails, I’ve been so busy recounting the whole experience that the blog seemed a bit redundant. Now that it’s slowing down and I’ve had some time to think, it’s starting to hit me just what’s happening.

It all started for me on Monday morning when my parents called to say they were going to gas up the truck and get their stuff ready to evacuate. That was a little scary, but still a bit distant, since I was at work dealing with client stuff. Fixing e-mails and updating websites, just going about the day. That afternoon, word came down to evacuate Scripps Ranch, where the office is. This was tough. I couldn’t just pack up and go, since our public facing servers are all run out of this room. We had to decide very quickly what the best way was to preserve as much as possible in the time allowed. Granted, we weren’t watching flames mowing down Eucalyptus trees outside the door, but we knew we had to get out and that we probably wouldn’t be back for a day or two, if at all.

In the end, our graphic designer and I packed the four development machines and the company archive server into the trunk of my car, and as many of people’s personal items as I could grab. I went through the office taking pictures of the equipment and artwork that I couldn’t move. That done, I locked up and went home. Hours of boredom ensued while I fielded phone calls and e-mails, telling everyone that yes, we were all okay and still had houses.

TV was full of images of houses melted down to foundations and chimneys standing like spinal columns that haven’t managed to fall over yet. Listening to the reporters mispronounce street names and give inaccurate directions, I eventually pieced together the fact that they were showing the remains of the neighborhood where several of my best childhood friends grew up. No one lives there anymore, but it’s surreal nonetheless. I found a list of destroyed houses and the house two doors down from one of my parents’ old places is gone, along with most of the houses on the road in. North County was blacked out and burnt, and Chula Vista was lighting up. If you watched enough local news that day (and believe me, I watched more than enough), you got spun up to the point that at any moment you expected to see footage of a guy in a toga playing a fiddle on Mount Soledad while San Diego smoldered in the background.

In spite of all this, I went to my Team in Training info meeting Monday night in Pacific Beach. Driving down, I watched the sun set bloody red behind the smoke and the occasional bits of ash landed on my windshield. Ten or twelve people showed up at the PB library to find out about joining the marathon and triathlon teams. I can’t imagine why they bothered that night, but then again I went because I wasn’t in danger and didn’t know what else to do with myself. In PB, apart from the smoke, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong. People sat out at the bars, drinking and smoking (yeah, I know) and just hanging out. Most of them were probably just happy that school was cancelled.

Even though I wasn’t really in any danger, I went through my house when I got home and took pictures of all the stuff I wouldn’t be able to take if I had to evacuate. I got all my papers and pictures and irreplaceable stuff together. It all fit on my kitchen table. It’s weird to know that if I had to bail out, I could load all that, 8 years of company development and coworker’s personal effects into a 2004 GTO and still jam in my road bike. Don’t know what kind of statement that makes, but it says something.

Tuesday was an exercise in surrealism. The top and bottom of the county are burning and I can still slip into Best Buy to pick up a wifi router. The whole middle section is just open for business, even though Qualcomm stadium is quickly turning into a refugee camp. (Granted, it’s a refugee camp with massages, acupuncture, wireless internet and cell-charging stations, but hey, this it California.)

My parents were finally evacuated Tuesday morning and by early that evening they were at my place with the dogs. We spent a fairly uneventful night.

Now here we are. The evacuation order on Scripps has been lifted so I’m sitting at work, sorting through messages and troubleshooting client issues, just like nothing’s going on. My folks still can’t go home, but at this point their house is fine. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

Thanks everyone for the thoughts and calls and e-mails. We really appreciate it. If you’re here in town, be safe.

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