From A to Zoe: When your city is on fire

San Marcos fire

San Marcos fire
(Photo courtesy of Zoe Amos)


When your city is on fire, where do you go? What do you pack? How do you leave your home knowing you may never return? These were the questions I had to deal with last week as North County San Diego was aflame.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been in this situation, and it probably won’t be the last. The good news, thus far, is my home has been outside the formal evacuation areas, albeit not by much. In the past, I’ve received evacuated family, friends and pets, and so it was again last week as I played host to two concerned friends and an orange cat while waiting out the latest firestorm.

Anytime we have Santa Ana conditions — high heat, low humidity and strong easterly winds — there is the possibility for trouble. Any spark, whether accidental or intentional, and we had both, has the power to turn into a blaze that sweeps up hillsides in a matter of minutes. In May, San Diego weather typically brings a moist, cool weather pattern, but for the second time this month, temperatures rose above 100 degrees. The humidity dropped to 2 percent. Strong winds blew through the area and knocked down two eight-foot fence panels in my yard. The next day was worse.

From my house I could see smoke from three separate fires. The largest one was on Camp Pendleton where Marines frequently set the brush on fire with their live munitions training. It’s far enough away that I don’t worry about it when I see the tell-tale clouds of smoke arising from the northwest. To the west of me, a fire in Carlsbad was close enough to cause concern, though it was burning in the opposite direction. It was another cloud of smoke that had me worried — the San Marcos, or Cocos brushfire to the east of me, which was rapidly gaining acreage and moving in my direction.

Evacuation orders were sent out via reverse 911 calls. I did not receive one, but I packed my bag in case I needed to make a quick getaway. I had time to think about what to pack. I would definitely take my computer, but not until I had to go as I was using it to get current information. I threw together two bags of clothes and toiletries. I took items I liked to wear and others that would be hard to replace. I tossed in my bathing suit thinking I didn’t want to shop for another. Tops are easy to buy, a good swimsuit — not so much. I packed my favorite scarf, my cute jeans, a favorite t-shirt I bought last summer in Eugene and my comfy black ankle boots. It wasn’t what I would have imagined.

Early on, the westerly progress of the Cocos fire made a quick turn-about when the wind shifted. The Santa Ana condition was losing out to the on-shore breeze and the flames blew away from my home. It could have become smoky from the Carlsbad fire, but I was just far enough north to miss it. Helicopters from local and state fire departments, as well as marine helicopters flew overhead and I knew more help was on its way.

I walked to the top of a nearby hill at dusk to watch the flames roar up the hillsides. The power of fire is as frightening as it is awe inspiring. Nature clears the underbrush and makes room for new growth. I thought about the creatures that live in those hills: deer, bobcats, mountain lions, squirrels, rabbits, birds, snakes, coyotes and lizards, knowing many of them would not find refuge.

For several days everything stopped. I watched live-streaming coverage on the Internet and clicked back and forth on the map page to stay on top of the latest evacuations and the course of the fire. Being at-the-ready with adrenaline running through my body was exhausting, especially with the heat bearing down. My home does not have air conditioning. This is San Diego. Those of us who live close to the coast don’t need it — or do we? As the wind continued to shift, the smoke settled and I closed my windows tight to keep out the rancid, burnt smell and choking ash.

We’ve had hard lessons here the in the San Diego area when it comes to firestorms, but these were lessons learned. Affected residents adhered to the evacuation orders. Other neighbors stayed inside and did not put a drain on needed services. Fire agencies around the state came together in a coordinated effort. The result: one death (which might not be fire-related), no major injuries, minimal loss of property with thousands of acres lost to fire, no reports of looting and several arrested and charged with arson. We applaud the firefighters and law enforcement for a job well done. The media kept a positive attitude, reminding us of the hundreds of homes saved. Mandatory evacuations have ended. We are all so grateful.

Zoe Amos brings her lesbian point of view to articles and stories on diverse topics. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Read her stories on Kindle and Nook. Check out her other life at

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