San Diego Fire
October 26, 2003

The firestorm has been the worst in the history of the state. So far it has burned over 400,000 acres and destroyed 1000 homes. About 14 are dead and twenty are critically injured. 

The latest entry is on top.

Tuesday Fire Map Update PDF FILE

Monday Fire Map Update PDF FILE

List of lost homes in San Diego

(As usual, click on the little picture to see the big picture.)

Wednesday, October 29
10 am - 4 pm

I had to go see for myself. I took my press pass and my cameras and went to the most devastated area. Along the way I got an assignment to follow a Jewish family on their first return to their destroyed house. Here is what I saw:

The "Ground Zero" neighborhood in Scripps Ranch. This is the area where my friends lived.
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These firefighters are the lucky ones today. They are not in Julian where one firefighter is dead and three critically injured by a flash-over.

Not much left here except a church and some fruit.

The hose was abandoned when the house was evacuated. 
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Fairbrook Drive.
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Fairbrook Drive.
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The news crews were out in force. I counted more than thirty in this neighborhood alone. 
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Fairbrook Drive.
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Being interviewed for some evening news program.
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These people are washing debris on a sieve looking for jewelry.
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There were interesting patches of green among the burned places.
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The Chabad Children's center was destroyed. The new building was not hurt.
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The Chabad bus didn't survive. Even the tires are melted.
My Photo Story

I should have better captions for this but I was so overcome by the devastation that I didn't take good notes. I really didn't have to because the newspaper knows who the family is. My captions are descriptive only. 
(I think the man is a prominent musician and teacher in the community and his wife is a lawyer.)

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The first glimpse of his former home. He has been away since the evacuation on Sunday.
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The first thing he is looking for is the Mezuzah, a Jewish scroll that goes on the door of the home. It was gone.
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"My wrench!" This will probably be one of the only items that will be found intact.
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"Hi neighbor." His next door neighbor has been here since Tuesday. He is a man I know from our Skeet Club. His house is gone as well. 
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The AAA insurance adjuster is already on the scene. He estimates that AAA has over 80 Million in losses in San Diego County.
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It is an unbelievable sight.
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"My wife has always hated that wall," he says. 

Unnaturally, it is the only thing left standing in the house.

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The wife arrives and sees the house for the first time.
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The good thing is that they are safe, and the family is unhurt. 
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She discusses procedures with the claims adjuster.
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The family is the next to arrive. I know that there are some of their children but I do not know the other relationships. I think it is her sister and brother-in-law.
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Nobody can believe the sight.
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On second inspection, she is overwhelmed.

They are looking at four unmelted water bottles on the side of the house.

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The family gets ready to start sifting through the debris to look for valuables that were left behind. 

Everybody has to wear a respirator. There is a lot of dust in the air and soon there will be more.

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The search starts near where the china cabinet was to search for a pair of candle sticks that were passed down from her grandmother to her mother to her. 

She regrets that she didn't take them but understands that she only had twenty minutes to evacuate the house and she had to get the children dressed.

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Everybody is working carefully but it is difficult. The cloud of dust is hazardous if you breathe it. 

The County Health Department says that there are more than 90 different dangerous chemical compounds present in residual dust and soot in the average home. 

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It takes everybody to move the destroyed walls. The most difficult thing to comprehend is that an entire two story house, walls, ceilings, roof, and contents now fits in a three foot thick pile of rubble. 
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Each time you see a cloud of dust it isn't a good thing.
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This is the first artifact found. If this were an archeological dig this would wind up in a museum. Now, it is just a relic of a life.
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There is more useless stuff to be found than heirlooms.
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The neighbors take a break. It is very depressing to watch.
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The first valuable found is a silver nugget that was something else before the fire. Now it is just a shapeless mass. 
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Neighbors helping neighbors.

Everybody in the community pitched in to help. Everyone was effected by the disaster.

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The Chabad House is a Jewish organization that does a lot of good for the entire community. After losing their school building, volunteers still congregate to take cake, food, water and hope to residents, police and firefighters in the area. 
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These women are cutting cellophane to wrap cookie bundles in. 

Part of the process is to make the aid packages attractive as well as useful. 

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Not only does it take a village, it also takes an assembly line.


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Everybody is helping out. These folks are leaving stuff at St. Gregory's Church, the drop off point for community donations. 
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St. Gregory's is piled high with everything from toys to diapers. Many people are willing to donate here rather than give to the Red Cross because a few years ago, there was a scandal where the Red Cross took our money and gave it to other communities. 

I will give anything to the church or Chabad because I know that my contributions will stay here in the community. The Red Cross has to tell people that their money stays where they say it stays, now. I still think it is just a PR move. 


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Halloween costumes for the area children.
Photos from Craig Spencer

I think these are of the Riverside/San Bernardino fire.

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Tuesday October 28
9:00 pm

Day Three of the San Diego Fires

We have sun for the first time in three days. Last night I even saw stars and Mars for about fifteen minutes.

The smell of smoke is still strong and we are eleven miles from the fire line. The ash, however, has abated. Diana swept the garden last night and there is only a trace of new ash this morning.

The box score currently is:
People dead: 12
Burn Unit patients: 27
Homes Destroyed: 800
Acres Burned: 284,000
People without power: 53,000
Firefighters on the line: 3,215
Fire line still burning: 137 miles

The web page has photos from the newspaper because my wife won't let me use my press pass to get my own shots. She seems to be supported in this unreasonable decision by most of my friends. I have my own breathing mask and a long telephoto so I don't understand what the furor is but I have to sleep next to her and will accede to her wishes.

Joe and Seren went home last night after dinner. Goldie and Herm (as well as most of us) seem to be on the verge of tears all the time. Of course, their neighborhood lost 100 homes, including the one they sold two weeks ago. They lived there for seventeen years and all of their friends are now victims of what is being called an avoidable fire.

Diana is off from school again today because the air quality on her campus is the worst it has been in the history of air quality measurement. People are walking around the streets with breathing masks on and we have all the windows closed in the house and the air filter running on high. We have to wash the filter every three or four hours.

The news says that the fire should be contained in three days and the final toll will be about 300,000 acres lost. Our soon-to-be-replaced Governor is doing a great job of passing the buck but most of our County Supervisors are disgusted with the performance of the State. Most people believe that half of the devastation could have been avoided with prompt action on Sunday.

These articles are taken from today's Union/Tribune, our local paper. 

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I cut off the parts she doesn't want you to see but I had to post the photo. It gives you an idea of what was happening Monday afternoon.
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My friends live up in this area and they are still not out of trouble. We are just praying for everyone in general because there are too many to name individually.
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The sunset was very colorful due to the dust in the air.
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Monday October 27
3:00 pm

It is day two and the sky is still red. It almost looks like snow, with all the ash and soot falling.

It smells like San Diego is being barbequed. Lots of wood smoke odor.

Joe and Seren's son-in-law was at their house and everything is ok, but the smoke is too thick for them to return. Curley, their cat, is hiding under the bed and would not like the environment at their house. They will stay here for another day.

Unfortunately, our good friends in Scripps Ranch have lost everything. Every single house on their block has been burned to the ground. The Airel shots are heartbreaking.

The traffic is very light. We went to the store for food and it is like being in a ghost town in some respects. Home Depot is crowded, the food stores are busy but not much else is happening. We did get a FedEx but no UPS today. No mail, no trash pickup and not much business is being done. It is too hard to breathe.

Diana spent an hour sweeping up soot and I did get a good photograph of her in her sexy cleaning outfit with the Butch Cassidy bandana over her nose and mouth. However, I have to sleep next to her and take her warning to not post it on the website very seriously. Therefore, you will just have to use your imagination.

The soon-to-be-replaced Governor gave the predictable bullshit answers to why there were no ariel tankers to help. It was something like "We did everything possible."

I don't think so. Today at 10am there was a fire in Simi Valley in Los Angeles County that had 10, (count 'em, 10) Airel tanker helicopters fighting the blaze to keep it from moving into a residential area. We could have used one or two last night when we were losing almost 700 homes to the fire.

Diana and I are fine and the kids are not in danger, either. It is, however, very depressing to live here today. I suspect tomorrow won't be much fun either.

My tip for the day is to consolidate your Very Important Papers into a fireproof strong-box. These will be the things that you just don't want to live without, like insurance policies, birth, marriage and other important certificates, and some cash for emergencies. Put the box where you can grab it on the way to the shelter.

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Early Morning
SimiValley4.jpg (20859 bytes) SimiValley5.jpg (34718 bytes) Weather Satellite photo of smoke movement.
TV Images of Fire
5:30 am Monday
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TV Images of Fire
9:30 pm Sunday
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TV Images of Fire
3:30 pm Sunday
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10:30 am

As this is being posted at 3:09pm, more than 80,000 acres of San Diego City and County have burned in the last day. A few minutes ago the news reported that a Mooney 4 place aircraft crashed on Hwy. 163 at Balboa, near Montgomery Field. The plane is burning in the middle of the road.

Every channel in town is showing houses and neighborhoods burning in Scripps Ranch, a residential area of town that has very expensive homes. The wind is very high and the temperatures are very high and the humidity is very low. This is perfect for a raging fire.

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Weird light, huh?
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This soot covered car is  across from the church.
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There is no way to catch the interesting way the light was hitting the church. The steeple was eerily white.
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The windows of these houses were very bright while the ski is showing the sepia toned look of ash in the air.
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Soot is everywhere. It was my first indication of a problem.
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Our yard lights are on at 10:30 am. 
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Balboa Park at 2pm.

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