Santa Clarita, California
Whoop-whoop! Whoop-whoop! This is a mandatory evacuation. Leave the area immediately!
Red Santa Clarita fire engines, green Cal Fire crew trucks, black and white L.A. County Sheriff cars enter the RV park like an invading army. Blue, yellow and red lights flashing, bullhorns blaring, they all push an immediate level of anxiety and fear in front of them.
Skies that were clear and blue moments ago turn gray, blocking out most of the sunlight. Ash and embers blow down the interior roads, joining the leaves and sticks that have been pelting us for an hour.
The whole world smells like a small house with a blocked fireplace. Soot leaks through every tiny opening.
Hell has found us and we have to move - now!!
Ninety minutes earlier.......
Cousin Cindy checks in to see how we are. Fine, why? She tells us there's a fire in Ventura County, but we don't see or smell smoke to the west. When Bill steps outside to leave for his doctor's appointment he shows me there is smoke to the east. It looks to be in the hills on the other side of Interstate 5, and it just started. Although the wind is picking up we're both confident it's not an issue, and he heads out.
A short while later he calls to say his appointment is cancelled due to a power outage at the medical center, and he's coming home. He notes that he was directed around road closures on the other side of the interstate. I call Brian (his office is nearby) to tell him about the closures, but he's already at work. He lets me know that their apartment has no power as well (it's close to the medical center). The outage is due to high winds, unrelated to any fire.
60 minutes earlier........
Bill calls to say he can't get back to the park. The interstate is now closed in both directions, as well as two side roads that come here from town. I'm on my own.
As the winds reach 40 mph, pushing the fire in my direction, I call Brian to see if he can get to me before the final road closes between us. Just in case....
He can and does. I pack up the interior, turn on the local news, and fix us some lunch. Bill checks in periodically to confirm he still can't get to us. I let him know there's a little smoke to the south, but otherwise our sky is clear, there's no smell of smoke.
30 minutes earlier.....
Most of the news is about the two fires to our west, and the one south in Sylmar. The Rye Fire (ours already has a name) is mentioned, but it's "the little one" of those that are rapidly devastating much of Southern California.
I put the small chairs in the storage bin, and realize I don't know where the key is to remove the ladder we strap to our steps. This means I can't retract the steps if I want to get the rig out - just in case. After looking in a couple places and talking with Bill about options (he has the key with him), I check and the cable isn't locked. The ladder goes on the picnic table with the big chair - just in case.
In hindsight, Brian and I had plenty of time to disconnect everything without stressing out, but at the time we're both feeling the pressure of the chaos and urgency that has descended on us. Brian confirmed with the sheriff that we can take the rig if we hurry. Slides in, utilities unhooked (I've never done this before!), and the brace under the step finally pulled out, I almost forget to retract the jacks (thank goodness for those annoying alarms!).
As I pull out with Brian following behind, I'm amazed at the number of people in their cars, leaving their homes on wheels behind. I remember later that many are permanent residents with no time to take down all they have set up. I try not to think about those who took off earlier and left their pets behind.
We pass several television vans and reporters set up with their big cameras, filming us evacuating. OMG - we're EVACUATING!
Fortunately that never happens.
When I let Bill know we are getting out he contacts our friend Scott who has the lot where we've stayed in the past. He lets me know they'll meet me there. Brian heads back to his own place where the power comes back on just as he gets home. I am so grateful for his coming to help me today!!
|The traffic clears up as I near the lot, and I'm grateful to have the fire far behind me.|
I keep track of the fire online, noting that by 8 PM the RV park is the only evacuation still in effect. It will end up not lifting until the following afternoon. With the winds still high, and hot spots nearby, the danger remains.
|This is the perimeter fence for the RV park - the firefighter stands at the back of one of the spaces.|
|At the base of the hill, 200 yards from where our home was.|
|Just to the east of the RV park, we are so grateful to these brave firefighters.|
|Six Flags Magic Mountain was also evacuated. The RV park is to the right of this photo. These four photos from the Santa Clarita Signal.|
We pick up our items at the RV park, talking with our neighbor about their night sleeping in their pickup in the Walmart parking lot while worrying about the fate of their trailer. Some are washing off their rigs, others sweeping aways piles of leaves, it is a very subdued scene. Small smoking hot spots on the nearby hill, and the smell of charcoal are vivid reminders of how lucky everyone is that the wind didn't change direction - it was already way too close.
We attend a "class" for Bill's upcoming cataract surgery. Gives us zero information not already included in the written instructions, and a huge waste of time. He'll be getting improved vision for Christmas this year - both eyes, a week apart.
As we pull out on Friday morning we are grateful that this particular adventure is behind us. It was not on any bucket list, and we hope to never repeat the experience.
When we set up in Mojave, Bill makes sure I know how all the hookups work, and we add the spare keys to current rings. Just in case.
Five days later the Thomas Fire in Ventura rages north, now threatening Santa Barbara. New fires have burned thousands of acres in Riverside and San Diego counties. The winds have finally died down and firefighters are optimistic that the worst is behind us. So many have lost everything, over 7000 remain under mandatory evacuation. We know how fortunate we are that our story has a happy ending, in no small part thanks to that invading army.