I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the huge Topanga wildfire ripping through parts of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Fortunately, that blaze has been brought mostly under control by firefighters across the region, reports the Los Angeles Times.
For those who aren’t familiar with just how big the Los Angeles area is, the western edge of the Topanga fire is about 70 miles from my home. (The first few photos I posted are from the Los Angeles Times.) There are some smaller fires burning closer to my family in the eastern suburbs of Upland, but nothing serious so far.
Despite the fires’ distance, the air smelled smoky most of the day yesterday and the soot-filled sky created fantastic sunsets the last couple days. A friend of mine who lives perilously close to this blaze, had to evacuate her family of four. I haven’t heard back from them in a couple days, though I’m sure they’re okay, because amazingly, this 20,000-acre fire has done little damage to homes so far.
That wasn’t the case during the Williams Fire in 2002, when Seth was only 3-months old. Although I knew there was a fire in the mountains north and west of our home, I didn’t realize the enormity until I was driving home from work that evening. I actually could see the orange-red blazes licking the night sky from 40 miles out.
I’m not sure I ever looked at the road the entire drive home, so surreal was the sight. By the time I got home, I was relieved to see that the fire was a good 10 miles away and moving west, away from our house.
Since my mom was in town, the Empress and I took our first date since Seth was born. We drove over to the town of Laverne, where gawkers lined the roads watching the beautiful, yet scary sight. The woefully inadequate 2 mega pixel camera I owned at the time was unable to really capture the scene. (That’s the last photo I posted.)
We went home feeling pretty comfortable that the fire was still far away. We decided if forced to evacuate, we would stay with friends or relatives in Long Beach.
The next morning, I went to work because the blaze, while huge, seemed relatively tame. During the afternoon, ocean winds reversed the direction of the fire and pushed it more decidedly in our direction. Experts were worried that if the fire jumped a road that served as a firebreak for our town, that it could become an inferno.
My wife informed me that the air had gotten much more smoky and I suggested she pack for Long Beach. But the Empress said it wasn’t that bad, but she happily agreed to go to Ontario Mills mall for a few hours, where the air and shopping would be better.
By night, firefighters became confident they could control the Williams Fire. I went out by myself to look at the scene again, and found that the road mentioned as a firebreak was closed. I drove over to Claremont, which is the town just west of where I live and found the fire had become much, much closer.
When I got home again, I realized the fire was visible through our bedroom window. That night, the wind began to push more southerly, and our home filled with smoke. It was as if we had forgotten to open the fireplace flue. All night long I kept getting up to look at the fire through the window and to monitor Seth’s breathing while he slept. The blaze was less than two miles away as the crow flies.
Even though we had two hepa filters cleaning the air in the house, they were completely overwhelmed. All night long we wondered if our 3-month-old boy was going to wake up with asthma. He didn’t. By the morning, the fire had settled down and the smoke lessened somewhat.
News reports said the worst was over – the fire was now headed due north into the back portions of the Angeles mountains. In the end, 62 homes and 14 outbuildings burned. It continued to smell smoky for days if not weeks, but we were out of the woods, so to speak.
But the Williams fire was nothing to the monster blaze that ripped through our mountains a year later. I’ll tell that story in a future post.