Blog Template Musings about Geocaching: 2007-10-21

Musings about Geocaching

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Time to evacuate . . .

When the sky finally started to lighten, I got up, ate some fruit and looked outside to see what the plume of smoke looked like at dawn . . .

To see where the fire was burning, and take some pictures, I drove up to the viewpoint on Skyline Truck Trail. Since the wind was really blowing, I hoped the windmill blades had been more blurred in the picture.

On the property below where I was standing, a young man was riding around on a three-wheel ATV. I couldn't believe he could "recreate" under the circumstances . . .

Several other people had the same idea I had to come to this particular part of Skyline Truck Trail. I decided to talk to one man sitting in a well-outfitted Jeep. He turned out to be someone I knew. He had been down the hill to take his wife and children to safety and only got past the roadblock on his way back up the hill because he is a police officer. That was one of the reasons I had not driven down the hill to fill my car with gas and get more food to eat. I knew I wouldn't be allowed back home . . .

We talked for a while and discussed where the fire was on a ridge to the southeast.

He said that was near the Four Corners intersection and if the fire fighters did not stop it there, it could follow the ridge to our side of Skyline Truck Trail. That smoke was more than two miles away, so I figured I had a few hours before I absolutely had to leave, and when I went back to my place, it was reassuring to know that one person knew I was here, in case things got much worse, very quickly . . .

The food in my freezer had thawed out, so I got out my camping stove, put it on the lee side of my place, and cooked salmon, chicken, a small pork chop, and a whole package of calamari. I ate the salmon, put the other cooked things in glass jars and put them in my freezer, where there were some containers of ice that had not completely melted, so they would cool down

Then, I contemplated taking a shower and washing my hair, without any hot water . . .

After I did that, I came back outside and realized I felt better. Finally, after being ill with body aches, a "burning skin sensation," and a debilitating depression for a full week, I was back to what I call "my normal." Wheeeuuu . . . what a relief. I thought, "Okay, now that I feel better, I can handle this." The day before, when I got out my journal, I wrote, "If I felt better, like I have felt for the past month, this would be easier to deal with — perhaps."

When I came outside, I noticed the wind had died down. I looked at my watch. It was 11:30 a.m. The Santa Ana winds lasted almost three days, just as predicted last week.

I looked towards Lyons Peak and observed that the plume of smoke was about the same as it had been earlier in the morning, but when I looked towards the east, the direction the wind had been coming from, there was a huge plume of smoke. That was new! To the southwest, there was another huge plume of smoke, and from what I was hearing on the radio, I thought the town of Jamul, six miles away, was in flames.

To get a true perspective of where the fire was, I could have driven up to the viewpoint again, but my car was low on gas. I know better than to let that happen, but it is a long story why it occurred this time . . .

Because I was also low on easily-prepared food, I was going to have to leave the next day anyway. The fuel canister for my camping stove was too low on fuel to cook the food I did have on hand—beans, rice, and steel cut oats—that take a long time to cook. So, I made the decision to leave right then, putting the things I had been using in the car and driving away, taking one last picture of the smoke rising behind one of my neighbor's places.

Down the road, at the short Lawson Valley spur, several people stopped to view the fire's progress. I stayed there talking to different people, listening to their stories. One woman was asthmatic and told an officer she would be safer in the clean air at her home. He reassured her the fire would be kept from their area in Lawson Valley, even though a Mandatory Evacuation order had been given for that long, dead-end valley.

I took more pictures and watched plumes of very black smoke erupt over the far ridge as the fire hit dense vegetation . . . or a house or out-building. Since the wind had died down, the several small plumes of smoke rising from the chaparral a mile away on this side of the ridge in Lee Valley did not look threatening.

A Border Patrolman stopped and hollered out to our small group of people. "Okay, if you will all come over here, I'll give you a fire update."

He said, "You all know me. I've worked this area for 15 year so you can trust me." Then he pointed towards Lee Valley where Lyons Valley Road goes straight as an arrow for a mile before beginning its winding path through the canyon up to the Four Corners intersection.

"All this area in Lawson Valley is going to burn."

"Huh," I thought. "How can I trust what he says when he doesn't even know the name of the valley he is pointing towards?" Lawson Valley is behind him, across Skyline Truck Trail on the other side of a huge ridge.

His analysis of the fire situation did have the correct effect on one couple, however, and they soon drove away, heading for a friend's house far from the fire danger.

Not too much later I drove down the hill towards the Evacuation Center at Steele Canyon High. However, I couldn't get there. At the intersection of Highway 94 and Steele Canyon Road, officers wearing full breathing masks were directing traffic at the newly-erected roadblock on the usually-busy highway.

Vehicles were stopped on both sides of Steele Canyon Road and one woman, with an anguished look on her face was talking on her cell phone. I took a couple of quick pictures and got out of there because the thick smoke from the threatening flames marching down the slope towards Highway 94 was toxic.

In El Cajon, where I filled my car with gas, people were going on with their normal routines, not comprehending the stress thousands of others were experiencing. I got some bananas and other fruit at a little store and then drove to Trader Joe's to get some dried mangoes to snack on. I meant to get more cans of sardines, but forgot that handy source of protein I keep on hand for emergencies..

While there, a woman I had not seen in a long time, came up to me. We talked for a while and then I asked if she had a cell phone.


"Could I use it to call my friend back at the Evacuation Center?" We walked to my car so I could get the phone number and when I made the call, I left a message. Before she drove away, her phone rang. It was my friend. She said he son had rescued her from the Evacuation Center Monday morning and was staying in a house not to far away where he rented a room.

When I got there, the young man who owned the house asked if I had a place to go. I said I was going to go to Quallsom Stadium, or to Fiesta Island where the people with horses had evacuated. He said I could stay there if I wanted to. Did I want to? You bet. A cute older house built in 1937 with hardwood floors, no odor from mold, and no chemical odors from air fresheners — it was my dream home, if I could ever purchase a real house . . .

For the next two days, Geocaching was far from my mind, although Wednesday night, I logged into the site to show my friend's son the cache pages FlagMan created for the characters in the NCIS television series, a program we watched the night before. I didn't know caching friends had been checking my Profile to see if I was okay, so logging in was a good thing.

During the next three days, because of the thick smoke outside, we stayed in the house much of the time. To stay occupied, we watched the television coverage, but one day we left to have lunch at a great Mexican Restaurant and go to a movie, the George Clooney thriller, "Michael Clayton." That was what we needed to do, although I don't know if my friend could have enjoyed the diversion if that morning she had not found out her husband was alive.

For three days, she did not know where he was or what had happened to him.

That morning, one of her sons talked his way past the road block and drove in to find their RV and new home foundation completely surrounded by burned area, but untouched by the fire. However, he didn't find his father. Later, he drove a short distance down the valley to the home of men who worked the nearby avocado grove, a grove that succumbed to the flames, and found his dad there. It was then that he learned how he had saved their place from burning by spraying the area with water, and even setting his own little backfire as the flames made a u-turn and headed back towards their place.

Finally on Thursday, I was able to spend more time on the computer. I logged into the Forums and posted that I was okay. That was when I found out my friends, including "lostguy", CTYankee9, and fisnjack had been checking my Profile. In the Forums I saw that the weekend C.I.T.O Event was still on, but under the circumstances, I couldn't think about going . . .

Monday, October 22, 2007

Geocaching was not on my mind as the smoke increased

During the night, the strong winds buffeted my place and at times, even though I put in earplugs, the sound disturbed my sleep. I got up early, and after fixing something to eat, continued packing more belongings and loading them in my car. I kept my eye on the plume of smoke to the south as I put the roof rack on the car and loaded it with my kayak and bicycle.

The night before, the first things put in the car were the important and essential things including my photographs, a duffle bag full of clothing, my camping gear, and my laptop. Now, since I had lots of time, I packed more items and things became less and less organized in the car as I stuffed it, ultimately filling in the nooks and crannies with grocery bags containing miscellaneous items, including the hatpins I have traded for during the past two and a half years of Geocaching adventures. It was interesting to see those mementos were more important to me than other things, items much more monetarily-valuable which I have had for many more years . . .

At one point, the wind blew the plume of smoke below Lyons Peak, removing any evidence of a fire. I went over to a friend's house.

"It looks like we might be spared if the wind keeps blowing in this direction."

My optimism did not rub off on him . . . He continued to make preparations to leave and I helped him take down the awning on his motor home so he could drive his home and possessions away from the fire danger. As we did that, two Border Patrol vehicles drove in. The men told us we were under a "Mandatory Evacuation Order" and needed to leave.

I said, "We don't have any phone service, so we did not know . . . " Without phones, we couldn't receive the "Reverse 911" calls other people in the County received to inform them of the danger.

After the Border Patrolmen drove away, one by one, my neighbors took off—some with their vehicles packed with essential items and some in their motor homes. One neighbor managed to find someone who could tow her trailer away for her. I took a picture of the plume of smoke as it rose high above Lyons Peak.

Finally, everyone was gone . . . except for me. The only voices I heard now were those coming from my small radio as "Monique and the Man" continued their show, hours after they usually get off the air at 9:00 a.m.

To get a better perspective on the fire, I walked up the long driveway to Skyline Truck Trail and took some pictures of the plume of smoke.

Then I walked back to the empty RV Park . . .

That night, it got dark early, so I took my little portable radio in my room and got into bed, listening to the voices telling harrowing stories of their escape from the flames of the Witch Fire, the first fire I learned about earlier the day before. There was not much talk about the Harris Fire, the one that was threatening my location.

Finally I fell asleep. Throughout the long, dark night, I woke and slept and woke and slept. Once when I woke up and all I heard was silence, I made my way through the dark house to my Geocaching pack on the floor by the front door to get out more AA batteries. I put them in the radio, turned it on and went back to sleep for another hour or so.

At four a.m., I awoke to voices on the radio talking about how the winds were dying down. That might have been true in one part of this large county, but my place was still being buffeted by gusts of wind I guessed were in excess of 60 mph. I did not know what I was going to do that day, but was relieved that dawn was finally coming.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fires all over San Diego County were spread by wind

Because a Santa Ana wind was blowing very hard, I was inside, spending my Sunday on the Groundspeak Forums. A friend sent me an email asking about the fire in Potrero. I did not know anything about it and even when I went to a site on the Internet, I didn't see any information. So, I got in my car and drove six miles down Honey Springs road to see the location of the smoke and fire in relation to her property.

The fire was a long distance away, to the east, and, reassured her property was safe, I took a few pictures before turning around and coming back home.

The plume of smoke behind this "castle" high on a hill above Deerhorn Valley Road looked more threatening.

Later in the afternoon, as wind gusts continued to buffet my place and the power blinked off, and then back on, I turned on the TV to see if there was any news about the fire in Potrero. Instead, they had coverage of a terrible, fast-moving fire heading for Ramona, a small town north of me where several cachers live. A mandatory evacuation order had been issued and on the TV there were images of cars, and trucks pulling horse trailers, heading out of Ramona to get out of the path of the flames.

While watching the TV out of the corner of my eye, I maintained my normal routine answering questions in the Forums. The only thing different from my usual at-home pattern was that after each power outage, I had to reconnect the dial-up connection.

Just after dark, I got a phone call from the friend who emailed me earlier in the day.

"I can't get home. They've blocked the road."

At the time of her call, she was trying to get around the roadblock by driving the back way, up my road. I said, "If you can't get through, come here." A short while later, I heard the sound of the diesel engine of her truck.

Because I had not been feeling well for nearly a week, I was not able to completely absorb what she was going through right then as she told me how a police car raced around her around the road, with lights flashing and siren screaming. If she had come up the back way first, she would have made it home, because the officer in that car was the officer who positioned himself to block the road at "Four Corners."

I made up a bed for her on the floor of my living room with my Thermarest mattress and a thick mattress pad to use as a blanket. As we talked and she told me about her day in Fallbrook, her cell phone rang a couple of times. It was her husband who said he couldn't drive home, so he was leaving the truck behind and walking in. The connection cut out a few times and didn't ring again.

We visited for a while, expressing our concern about her husband walking the three miles up Honey Springs Road in the dark, and then two friends who had also been evacuated came by with my friend's dogs they retrieved from their kennel a few hours earlier. A bit later another friend came by to say she was going to the Evacuation Center at Steele Canyon High School. She told us we should also leave . . . and when my power went out, along with my phone line, the decision to leave was easy for my friend. Before she took off down the hill, she helped me pack a few things and load them in my car and her truck.

The things that went into my car first included a plastic tub containing my photographs, all the software disks for my computer, and important papers. My favorite clothes were packed into a large duffle bag, and I packed my camping gear into two backpacks. Another small duffle bag had my "kitchen stuff" including some canned sardines. I filled my large cooler with fruit and other food from my refrigerator along with several containers of ice I always keep in freezer.

The last things to go into the car that night was my laptop. There were very few personal items in the car at that point . . . except for a notebook that contains my Geocoins and the signature items I have collected while caching.

After packing the car with the essentials, I considered the direction of the wind and figured I would be safe staying home, although that night was sure a long one without the reassuring glow of the time on my clock radio to glance at each time I woke up.


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