Thursday, August 27th, the little fire that started Wednesday night blew up.
Here, you can see JPL in the foreground as fire burns near the top of the far ridge. A valley, a neighborhood, and another ridge lay between the fire and JPL.
Thursday night, as the far ridge burned bright across the canyon, I began to pace and grind my teeth, but ECG comforted me, reminding me that between us and the fire JPL lay, a treasure the US government would not let burn.
That night, we talked about the possibility of evacuation, and though the possibility seemed far away, I still went out to the garage to get the cat carrier. I wanted it nearby and ready if we needed it fast. We made a list of what we'd bring if we had to leave. The list was remarkably short: the central computer and the backup drive, ECG's negatives, our important papers, the cats and hopefully, if possible, the chickens, clean underwear.
Friday, August 28th, the fire broke all containment and grew in every direction.
I left for work that morning with a choke of fear; however unlikely it seemed, evacuation was a possibility. I gave my cats extra hugs and petting, I walked through each room in the house, I kneeled low to the chicken coop and clucked at the birds, I dragged my feet through the garden. I really didn't want to leave the house for work when I may have to later leave the house for real.
When I came home that afternoon, I turned into an Internet junkie. I'd flip from the Pasadena Star homepage to the La Canada municipal page to the LA Times local page to the best, most informative site of all, Altadena Blog. Then, I'd flip through them all again. Finding reliable, up-to-date news was far harder than it should have been. Then, I'd walk outside and watch the air assault on the fire from my front yard. When I worked myself into a frenzy of fear, I'd go inside again and flip through all the websites once again.
Nieghborhoods in La Canada received voluntary evacuation requests.
Saturday, all hell broke loose.
La Canada's voluntary evacuations became mandatory. Then came the voluntary Altadena evacuations just to the north of us.
And all morning long, I wondered, where are the planes? Finally, a half-day later than they should have been there, the DC10 and other air crews arrived, close to 1:30pm.
And, suddenly, Altadena's evacuations were no longer voluntary. If you lived in an evacuated neighborhood and you left, you were not allowed back in, not even to try to round up animals that you were unable to find when you had to leave. Packed cars from just north of me fought against the gawkers on my street to leave their homes.
Wonderful people called me to tell me that they could take in the chickens, or they would happily house the cats. People called to tell us that they had an extra bed if we needed it.
An understandably frantic fellow member of the Altadena produce exchange emailed us all. She had a horse, three dogs, fourteen chickens, and two cats, and she needed places for them, fast. Almost immediately, the community had found homes for her animals and also offered cheer and humor. The horse trainer at the barn where I ride drove by my house towing the big trailer, full of horses. As the talented Karin over at Altadena Hiker reported, all 30 of the horses were out in under two hours. People rallied each other on our local websites and discussion boards. This town is something special, and I'm so happy to have a community that watches each others' back so completely, cheerfully, and generously.
The stronghold that ECG and I had been relying on, JPL and its adjacent neighbhorhoods on both sides of the canyon, came under fiery attack Saturday afternoon. The firefighters pulled out all stops. The hot sky was heavy with smoke and noise as a constant thudity-thudity-thudity of helicopter and scream of bombers hit the JPL ridges hard.
Fire crew after fire crew headed up our road. Evacuees headed down. Sightseers stood around.
ECG, who had been a calm force through all of this, finally seemed to be a little shaken.
Thankfully, friends bearing popsicles and moral support fought their way up the crowded road to our house. We ran through our evacuation plan with them, and one said, "No, there's something else you need to add to your evacuation list, if you have to go."
"What?" I asked.
"Your seeds. You'd regret it if you didn't have them."
The firefighters' heroic efforts saved the Starlight Crest, Meadows, and Millard Canyon neighborhoods and kept JPL undamaged.
The fire roared up the mountain and east.
Sunday morning, smoke lay thick and smothering over Altadena, but Altadena, thank God, was still there.
Incredible gratitude goes to our firefighters who are braving over 100 degree weather, fierce slopes, over 40 years of fiery fuel, way too many curious onlookers, and heart-stopping multi-story flames. Thank you for your heroic efforts. Thank you also to local journalism of the unpaid but INVALUABLE kind at Altadena Blog, Altadena Hiker, and others.