Ashen and Shaken

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."

Good point.

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.


Melikay said…
Christina...this is such a wonderfully written and documented account of these events. I do hope you and E are feeling less anxious. You and all of my friends who are affected by this are in my thoughts. Don't hesitate to ask if you need anything! xoxox
Chris said…
oh, horrible, horrific, and still wonderful how people manage to come together in such stressful sitations. glad to hear that you are fine and (hopefully) things are cooling down a bit.
Lucy said…

I've been worried sick about you.
Rowena said…
I am so glad to hear that you both escaped without harm, but it was certainly nerve-wracking to read your experience! I had just logged onto Yahoo and seen news of the 2 firemen that perished...such bad news to hear, but reading about how your community pulled together was very heartwarming.
ann said…
Crazy crazy stuff. So glad you're all okay! Now, go enjoy your first day of school :-)
Wendy said…
I hadn't heard a peep about this over here. How awful. Have no idea what to say. It all sounds absolutely terrifying. And I just can't imagine how you felt going to work that morning and leaving the cats and chickens. So very relieved that you and your home is ok. xxx
Patrick said…
Wow, I'm so glad you're safe. That sounds like a terrible ordeal. I hope they get things under control soon and the fire stays away from you!
June said…
My brother used to fight fires for the forest service. It is hot, terrible, dangerous work. Firefighters are invisible to most of us because often the battle happens away from the crowds. Thanks for giving us all a front-row seat to the heroic effort under way in your neighborhood and all around L.A. It does make us all think about what matters most.

I'm so relieved you -- and the pets -- are safe. Please do keep us posted...
Anonymous said…
What, I'm not getting paid?

(Great roundup, but you should have been along for the return trip, Christina. I also like your priorities: Chickens first, clean underwear later.)
milktoast said…
Fantastic post, Christina. It puts in order--documents what the past few days have been like.
Christina said…
Thanks for the well-wishes everyone. Please keep in mind the people who are still evacuating on the west and east ends of the fire--10s of thousands of homes. Keep in mind, also, the now-homeless animals and the ravaged earth. We've got a lot of work to do.
belinda said…
Hi Christina,

As someone who faces a very real fire threat every year I have empathy for your situation.

I wonder if the sight seeing realise just how difficult they would make it if it became an evacuation. I know last year when things got serious around here it took 2hrs to travel a stretch of reasonably major rd that normally takes 10-15 min. The majority of the delay was panicked local drivers doing unusual things (like running red lights) as they were seriously scared about the risk and sight seeing people cruising the road at a crawl to get a glimpse of the flames.

Good Luck, I hope the winds turn things back on the burned area soon to make things easier to get under control.

Kind Regards
I'm exhausted by it all and I didn't even have to ready for evacuation.
I went into Sunland/Tujunga last night (visit my latest video in comment thread as well as post). I find it so hard to believe that all this damage could have happened without the aid of Santa Anas (and they're yet to come)

Were most of your photos taken from the ridge where the bicyclists park?
Christina said…
Belinda: Thank you so much for your kind words. The fire is now 22% contained, and although that means it still is not finished, it's a much nicer figure than we had for days and days.

Palm Axis: I know--isn't it terrifying that the winds aren't even here yet? Yes, these pictures are taken near the turnout where the bikers pass. I live across the street from there, so some pictures are from my front yard, others from the back yard, and others from the turnout.
Anonymous said…
I'm also Palm Axis

I recall hearing voices above me when I was doing my wee videos. Last I heard it's headed in the direction of Monrovia but on the backside
GS said…
So glad to hear you are safe for now. Fire season is hell. Hope it ends soon.
Annika Stennert said…
Hello CHristina!

I have your blog in my bookmarks - I found link to it on another seed/gardening related blog from here in Adelaide, Australia. I couldn't believe my eyes, when I saw your latest update. Of course, the fires were all over the news here, too, but I never thought, somehow, that I would be confronted by the horrible reality of them, while looking at my favourite blogs. I am so glad that you were unharmed.
Sending much love from Australia.
Annika Stennert said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christina said…
AOS and Annika: Thank you. I wish you a fire-safe season this upcoming summer as well.
Unknown said…
I am so happy to hear that you and yours are okay. I learned the other day that if a fire hits..throw important papers in the freezer!

Thank you for letting us see up close and personal...whew!!
AJK said…
Boy that fire was waaaay tooo close for you guys. I can see it from a distance, but geesh, it's in your backyard. I'm so glad you are all right.

Popular Posts