I can't believe that a year has passed since my family and I were forced to evacuate our home in Silverado, CA. Last October, some idiot (or idiots, no arrests have ever been made) decided it might be fun to start a fire in three separate spots near the mouth of our canyon during fierce Santa Ana winds. It seems that most of California was on fire last October. There were terrible fires in Malibu, the San Diego area and many in the northern part of the State. In October 2007 there were 18 reported wildfires in California.
Silverado is a small community tucked in the Santa Ana Mountains, east of Orange. We have lived here for over 16 years and outside of the volunteer fire station catching on fire years ago, there never has been a fire in Silverado. In case of evacuation, there is only one way out, which means that we would have to evacuate towards where the fire started.
On Sunday, October 21, 2007, the "Santiago" fire was started. My wife, son and I watched the TV reports with much interest, yet I did not feel uncomfortable as the winds were blowing the blaze away from us. On Monday, as I drove out of the canyon headed toward my office, the fire was 3.5 miles away from our house (where it had started) and the winds were still blowing it away from us.
My wife called me in the late afternoon to let me know that mandatory evacuations had started and I may not be able to get home. The fire was burning out of control and homes were threatened. I tried to get home, but met up with a road block about 7 miles from home. I had nothing but the clothes I was wearing. The possessions of my whole life are in the house, memories of 50 years. Here is a short video to give you an idea of how massive this fire was: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yRaQqJ_vl4
My wife and son loaded clothes, pictures, the 3 cats, the dog and the rabbit into her car and left. My in-laws were gracious enough to take us in. We would not be allowed to go back home for 2 weeks.
We had news reports via TV and radio to update us at all hours. Twice a day, I called a friend of mine who is a volunteer firefighter and he had stayed to fight the fire. The phone calls ranged from "We're going to be OK" to "We're going to lose our homes today." It was truly an emotional roller coaster. We would go to "Camp Silverado" a makeshift hangout that was set up in the parking lot of an Albertsons and talk with friends and neighbors. This experience brought us all closer together.
Miraculously, we did not lose our home. The fire got as close as about ¼ mile from us. Fourteen homes were lost in Modjeska Canyon and some others were damaged. The fire burned over 28,000 acres. We were very fortunate.
We returned home 2 weeks after being evacuated and have received an enormous amount of education to help us in case it happens again.
We learned that for the next 5 years during rain storms, we may be subjected to mud slides and debris flow that could wipe out the whole canyon. Any time it rains, sandbags are made available for the whole community. We learned that we must have a defensible space around our homes to prevent loss of our home in case of fire. We have always been good about keeping the trees at least 10 feet away from our roof. Now we are supposed to keep all flammable bushes and shrubbery at least 100 feet from the house, a tough task for any of us. We learned that we shouldn't cut everything to the bare dirt, but have some native plants to keep the wind from blowing embers across the dirt. We learned that we should box in all eaves to prevent embers from blowing into the attic space which could start a fire. We learned that many of the homes in our area have wooden decks which are a hazard, that wooden siding should be replaced and we learned that we should have a firefighting gel at our disposal: http://www.northwestbarricade.com/news.aspx
Since it is fire season, get educated: http://www.firesafety.gov/ or http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/citizens/ Make sure that you have an evacuation plan. Make sure your whole family understands this plan. The plan should include escape route or routes. What needs to be taken and what can be left behind. Check with your homeowner's insurance agent to make sure that you're properly covered for any loss you may incur in the event of a fire. Take a home inventory: http://www.knowyourstuff.org/ or http://www.download.com/Computerize-Your-Assets/3000-2131_4-10407241.html?tag=mncol&cdlPid=10684204 and put a copy in a safe deposit box.
Take the right precautions so that your family and your home survive!