After the trip
Coming home to disaster and hope
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow." - Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, played by Judy Garland
After I got back to my hotel near JFK Airport, I talked with my parents on the phone to confirm that they would be picking me up at the San Diego Airport. My dad had asked me if my flight would be canceled. I asked him why it might be. He told me that a few fires were burning in San Diego County. I told him I was not aware of any cancellation, and that I would inform him if the flight changed. I did try to catch some national news on the TV in the hotel room, but reports that I saw about the fires did not seem to make it all that big of a deal. I had not been watching the news much the previous week due to my busy travel schedule. So I wondered what I had missed as far as news. And the next morning, I flew home to the middle of it all.
As I looked out the windows of the plane as it was approaching the San Diego Airport, it reminded me of landing in very heavy fog, such as can happen in Seattle this time of year. However, this was not fog, it was smoke. At the airport, where my parents were waiting for me, I saw haze and light coatings of ashes as far as I could see. The sun also had a surreal orange glow. My parents had informed me that the city mayor was recommending that all businesses remain closed on this Monday. I called my boss, and she confirmed that I should not come to the office today, in fact, her home in Poway was close to one of the fires. I was glad for this, as I had taken a very early morning flight, and could use the time off to rest. We live perhaps 10 miles from the San Diego airport. The drive from the San Diego Airport to Chula Vista showed no escape from all this haze and smoke. I did go to work the next day, but it was not comfortable breathing with all of the smoke in the air, whether it was in Chula Vista or my workplace in San Diego 18 miles away from there.
The Cedar Fire, which began in the Cleveland National Forest, turned out to be the largest fire in California history in terms of the 280,000 acres or so that were burned. About 2800 homes and businesses were lost and 15 people lost their lives. This fire came as close as a few blocks from the office where I work in east San Diego. It stretched to places such as Poway and Romona. It also threatened the town of Julian, a small town designated as a California Historic Landmark, a popular stop for tourists and those seeking recreation in the Cleveland National Forest.
Another fire, the Otay Fire, approached the Mexican border and reached the east end of Chula Vista, perhaps 5 or so miles from where I live. It was close enough that one could see the wildfire that was burning from where I live. Fortunately, this fire was a fraction of the size of the Cedar fire.
There was also the Paradise Fire, not much difference in size from the Otay fire, that was burning on the other side of Escondido. There was concern that this fire would merge with the Cedar Fire. The two fires came within about 5 miles of each other.
All of San Diego County was affected one way or the other. There were fires in other parts of Southern California, too. The combined wildfires were dubbed the “2003 Firestorm.”
By the following weekend, the air was clearing up and weather was helping the fire fighters. The impact to the local community and all of San Diego County was unlike anything I had ever seen. Others not as fortunate as my parents and me lost much. The news was full of stories of neighbors helping neighbors, promoting hope in this disaster.
The fires made for an ending to this trip that I will never forget.
“Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.” - Martha Graham, dancer and choreographer
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