Random Inspirations

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The Ring of Fire in San Diego County: Reflections on a Natural Disaster

on May 15, 2014

Natural disasters are one of my greatest fears, precisely because they’re out of control and there’s not much that normal people (i.e. non-emergency personnel) can do except get out of the way and pray for everyone affected…and of course, help out any way possible in the aftermath. This is my first summer in California, but I’ve quickly learned that perhaps the most frightening natural disaster in SoCal is an out-of-control brush fire.

In our case yesterday, we had eight–all sprinkled through San Diego’s North County. The hot, arid conditions, coupled with unpredictable gusting winds, created fire-friendly conditions. Embers blew in the powerful winds, igniting the grass and vegetation and spreading the fires to private residences and businesses. Here’s an article from the LA times with more information on the scary happenings of yesterday.

Here's a map of the 8 fires in San Diego's North County yesterday. Image courtesy of WIldfire Today.

Here’s a map of the 8 fires in San Diego’s North County yesterday. Image courtesy of Wildfire Today.

The Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad was the most destructive of all, and just happened to be half a mile from my neighborhood, with winds moving the flames west toward my house. The fire broke out at 10:40 AM, right when I was leaving home for a meeting. By the end of the meeting, everyone was buzzing with news about the fire that had spiraled out of control in the past hour. My good friend Jenny had also called and invited me to stay with her and her family. All the schools in the area had been evacuated, and will remain that way until next Monday.

Naturally, I had to try heading home to see if I could grab a few things, but all the main access roads had been blocked off, and emergency personnel were telling me to turn around and stay away from my neighborhood. All I could see was billowing black smoke on the hill beyond, with an airplane flying above the scene.

For the entire drive to Jenny and Patrick’s house, I rapidly cycled between nervous adrenaline, tears, and, finally, an odd sense of calm. I drove past the Carlsbad lagoon and saw people water-skiing without a care in the world, probably not even aware of what was happening mere miles away. I also thought of all the things Antonio and I had in our house: wedding presents and mementos from our relationship over the years, the special piano book that had belonged to my teacher in college, my journals from elementary school on, even my collection of clothes, shoes, purses, fragrances, and make-up. But I realized that, no matter what happened to our house, so full of happy memories and sunshine after 8 months of living there, the most important things would remain intact. Antonio was safe at work (and headed toward home as soon as he heard how severe the fires were). Good friends were there to support us in the hard times. I had just visited my family, and felt close to them.

We spend our lives working hard to build our dreams, but so many people become caught up in materialism or workaholic tendencies, forgetting what’s really important: the love of our family and friends. My contemporary YA novel, “Winner,” explores exactly this topic. The only positive thing about these fires was that they reminded us of what is truly important: our lives and our loves. My heart goes out to the people who lost their homes or workplaces; they have been in my thoughts and prayers. No one was physically hurt, thanks to the county’s prompt response, and for that we can all be grateful.

That evening, we were allowed to return home, and Antonio and I drove around to buy hoses and a fire extinguisher, as well as to see the progress of the firefighters. The fire in our neighborhood was looking much better, but another in nearby San Marcos was blazing under an eerie yellow-orange full moon. Thank God that this fire has now been contained. I heard on the news that county officials are “cautiously optimistic” about the fires in North County, and I can only hope this is true.

Readers, were any of you present at these fires? Have you seen other natural disasters, and what were your feelings afterward? As always, I’d love to hear your opinions.

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