This is my perspective of the raging fires in my San Marcos, California neighborhood that took place May 14-15, 2014. Perhaps one of my digital art images, “Tranquility’s Trap“, from my Time Out Of Mind website, created in 2010, sets the right mood for this piece.
The long period of peace and isolation itself creates the unanticipated disturbance’s frame of reference. That disruption first appears non-threatening, mostly transparent, uncomplicated in form.
That is the trap. If the end of tranquility was obvious, it could be better avoided.
Only after full immersion into the deception does the reality begin to sink in; too late to retreat, too early to know if there is a way out.
The day before, Santa Ana Winds began to blow in San Diego County, California. In the eighteen years my wife and I have resided here, our attention is accentuated when the hot Santa Ana Winds arrive. Those winds bring danger. We faced three prior fires [ 1; 2; and 3 ]since moving here from the Chicago region in February 1996. On the first day of the winds we had no idea our fourth most dangerous fire would face us the next day.
In the late morning of May 14th, I read on the web that there was a fast-moving fire in Carlsbad, California. In fact, this fire was right near where we lived back in 1996-98. It was also close to where my older cousin lives. I got anxious immediately upon watching the spreading flames on the live news of the event on TV. [ I tried to reach him but could not until two days later and found out he was safe.]
About the same time, the news reported a new unrelated fire at Camp Pendelton. I could see that smoke about 20 miles distant rising from my upstairs office window. I then went outside to the street and started scanning the clear blue sky around all four points of the compass. I made this first Quicktime video from my iPhone 5s. The audio track I spoke in the video is prophetic.
[ Note: ] These videos require Apple Quicktime for viewing. Click video window to start and stop.
Video #1, May 14, 2014, 12:11 pm
I returned to my office and continued working. As a few hours rolled by, I discovered the San Marcos Cocos fire erupted and went outside to see what was happening. The California State San Marcos University was evacuated and the 10,000 people there were leaving fast on the main street behind my house. I took the next video below.
Video #2, May 14, 2014, 4:06 pm
A Mandatory Evacuation order was issued for my neighborhood. My wife had returned home and so we started packing up what we could take with us. The winds were blowing fiercely. All the neighbors were out either getting ready to leave or trying to decide to leave. I took this video before returning to the house.
Video #3, May 14, 2014, 4:20 pm
After packing my computer equipment and paper files up and my wife packed up some clothiers and other important items, of what we could fit into our two vehicles, I had a feeling I better go out and see what the conditions were at the moment. The news was pretty grim except for the weather report. I took this next video after deciding not to leave yet.
Video #4, May 14th, 4:48 pm
I was starting to think we were out of danger when I saw more smoke from a location that not too much earlier the smoke had stopped! I decided to go out and seek updated firsthand information. Most of the neighbors that had decided to stay were in the corner intersection all having second thoughts. I decided to walk a couple blocks towards the smoke to evaluate and update my own strategy. I took the following video.
Video #5, May 14, 2014, 5:46 pm
The fire’s Act II began. This would be the most dangerous phase and cause the most destruction. As many of us who stayed behind watched the eastern hills, we held many conversations about what to do. Some of the families decided they had enough of sticking around and left. There rest of us noticed the wind had died down and had changed towards the East. But the flames were now creating their own weather and that makes the situation more unpredictable. Now the voices were becoming stressed out and patience wearing thin for alternative options. I took the next video below.
Video #6, May 14, 2014, 5.58 pm
It’s one thing when you can only see smoke. It’s another when you start seeing the flames 100 or more feet high start going up the mountain towards the homes. Whatever level of tension and anxiety is felt previously, is now doubled at least. I took the next video below.
Video #7, May 14, 2014, 6:11 pm
My friend and neighbor, Tim, had the same reasoning as I did. If the wind has stopped and not forecast to increase overnight then there is no way the fire can spread to us. We hunkered down with confidence that we were staying. We found other neighbors with the same attitude as we. We understood why others had left. We understood better why we had stayed. The camaraderie that arises during a crisis sustains each other’s steadfastness, indicating and validating a strong feeling of standing one’s ground against Mother Nature. I took the next video below.
Video #8, May 14, 2014, 8:20 pm
I was getting tired now from all the excitement of the day. I felt safe that with no wind, no harm could come to our door. I returned home from the street, ate some dinner, and soon after went to bed. I knew the next day would be better. Maybe it would be better for me and my neighbors, but that was very shortsighted in the larger picture of life. I took the last video of the night below.
Video #9, May 14, 2014 8:27 pm
Imagine my surprise as I awoke from my restful sleep to see smoke again to the East. How dare the fire not conform to my human wishes! Mother Nature had another lesson to teach, if not directly upon me, but indirectly and with a more lasting impression. I took the next video below.
Video #10, May 15, 2014 11:00 am
A few moments later I hear the aircraft flying nearby. The sound of their engines echo off the mountain sides and it’s hard to locate the aircraft’s direction. I went to the main street at the era of my home and took this next view below.
Video #11, May 15, 2014, 11:04 am
So over the next few hours, I occasionally heard the various aircraft go to-and-from the water supplies to the fire. I decided to go out and capture some of the action in my next three videos below.
Video #12, #13, and #14 May 15, 2014, 2:04 pm
The next 8 videos were taken as the battle intensified.
Video #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, and #22 May 15, 2014 between 3:16 pm and 3:23 pm
The news of the late afternoon recorded the disaster that overtook the people that lived to the east and southeast of the mountain near our home. We here in my neighborhood were safe. That’s when the reality all started to sink in for me. I took one more reflective video this day shown below.
On Friday, I spoke with one of my newly introduced neighbors, Dan. I told him the stress of this ordeal had disrupted my ability to concentrate now that the danger passed. He affirmed he was going thorough the same condition. Our bodies are always ready for fight or flight and intense crisis causes that mode of our humanity to linger.
I walked out to the main street behind our house and saw a fire truck stopped at the red light on an otherwise totally empty street. I snapped the picture as fitting end to the battle against Mother Nature waged by heroic and non-stop firefighters, civilian and military aircraft pilots to save lives and property when they could.
There will be more Santa Ana Winds this year. Now is a time to rest and consider what lessons we learned this time around. That may take a long time to absorb.