Thursday, November 08, 2007

2007 Fire Story - Nancy Reed

Don Huston asked me about how we fared in the fires. This simple question opened my memory and out flowed the following story. I hope you will enjoy it. Yes, this is a true story.

We evacuated on Monday mourning at about 1:30 am as the Coronado Hills fire was cresting the Frank’s Peak to the north of our ranch. This fire was in the hills between Elfin Forest and south eastern San Marcos. I never received a reverse 911 call; a hysterical neighbor called instead. We were prepared with trailer and RV restocked from a CTR that Saturday. We also had dog leashes, cat carriers and personal bags packed.

We were able to get all animals and humans off the property in about 20 minutes. Our horses, Lyric and Jazzi, loaded in less than 4 minutes. My 2 boarders (who do not have trailers) were hand walked ahead of the RV by my daughter to a neighbors 5 acre denuded pasture were they were evacuated later that morning.

We (daughter Danielle, sister Bridgit, 2 cats, 2 dogs and our 2 horses) made our way to the Del Mar fairgrounds amid the I-5 freeway construction and vicious winds. These winds were clocked at up to 80 mph! Once off the freeway we found a long line already waiting to get into Del Mar. It snaked out of sight under the freeway with every kind of rig imaginable. It took about an hour to get from the off ramp to leading Jazzi and Lyric into stalls in Barn “I”. As we inched forward in the line up I was impressed by the courtesy exhibited by the other evacuees; room was made to ensure safe turning, lines merged together without incident.

The scene in Del Mar was both frightening and comforting. The air was thick with acrid smoke and ash. Over head lights gave a ghostly light illuminating a circus of horses, humans, dogs, zebras, goats, alpacas, lamas and even caged birds all seeking refuge into the thousands of stalls Trailer and barn doors became lethal weapons as the wind continued to lash out as if in some mindless rage. Neighs of fright and comfort reverberated up and down the barn isles. Yet Lyric and Jazzi calmly unloaded and walked without hesitation into strange stalls. Their neighs were added to the calipee of sounds as more and more trailers poured into the barn isles. We were safe, we made it without an injury or mishap; prayers answered.

Around me I saw several hysterical owners who were forced to leave horses behind due to lack of trailer space. Still others quickly unloaded determined to rescue beloved equines left in the path of the fires. Many did not have horse supplies, buckets, hay bags, hay, etc. Most of us became the other set of hands, holding doors, filling buckets anything to help our equine comrades in the mist of the biggest evacuation in the history of the state. By 8 am that morning Del Mar was full with over 2,500 animals housed in its barns.

We stayed in Del Mar for 4 nights. All in all it was a good experience. Within 12 hours of our arrival a feed store was set up with stall deliveries. Not only did local restaurants deliver meals, but pet stores donated cat and dog food and supplies. Soap, tooth brushes and all kinds of personal care items were also donated. Even Home Depot donated hundreds of their orange buckets for watering and feeding the horses. The barn isles became little communities ensuring whatever was needed was covered. Feed, water and exercise schedules were posted on each door with owner and animal information. Several horses took great pride in removing and or rendering these useless with slobber, feed or bedding. By day 3 organized teams of volunteers made rounds; watering, feeding, cleaning and walking.

Us humans found refuge in the “Elfin RV” with the AC and AM radio. We had the radio on non stop almost the entire time keeping us updated on the fires that still raged. By some lucky happenstance of events, Elfin Forest was spared this time. The Coronado Hills fire was put out in mere hours due to the sharp work of our unit from Elfin Forest and San Marcos Fire. On Tuesday and Wednesday Del Dios to the south east and Rancho Santa Fe to the southwest took the brunt of it. Our fire department was stretched thin having sent units to both Del Dios and Rancho. As the eastern flank of the fire ran up the Del Dios ridge with the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve as its next meal, the northern ridges of Rancho Cielo were set with back fires to stop the fires advance into southwestern Elfin Forest and Paint Mountain. By grace and these back fires the south western flank of the fire was stopped in the creek bed below the Bridges at the western base of Paint Mountain.

To the east the fire continued to burn, marching closer to our valley and the eastern slope of Paint Mountain. To get to us the fire had to burn through the top of the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve and the new Olivenhain reservoir before it could reach Paint Mountain to the west and the Elfin Forest Valley. Elfin Forest Fire had hand crews on the top of the ridge on the west side of the Olivenhain reservoir, waiting to fight the monster. As the flames crested the ridge it swallowed the new Lake Hodges overlook picnic area and continued on. Unknown to most, Elfin Forest had a secret weapon, a local who was a San Diego Fire Helicopter pilot. The secret weapon was in Del Dios making water drops and keeping and eye on the fires northwest flank. As the fire took the overlook he went into action. Somehow, he herded the fire into the reservoir, starving it of fuel. With only one spot fire on the western side of the water, the fires advance was stopped and Elfin Forest was saved! Today our valley and most of the Reserve is ride able. We have a few downed trees here and there, but we escaped, this time.

Nancy Reed
Lazy J Ranch
Elfin Forest, CA

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