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Silhouette Farm

The Triangle-Complex Fire

11-15-08

About 10 am we saw on the news, perhaps it was online first, that there was a fire in the Corona area, burning to the west. We were having relatively moderate santa ana winds on our side, but apparently it was blowing heavier in the santa ana river valley. It had started near the 71 Expressway, and within a short amount of time, that was closed.

As we continued to watch, we saw that the fire was progressing rapidly for Yorba Linda. Several homes had already been destroyed in Corona, and now homes were threatened in YL. They soon began evacuations, as homes were now being destroyed there. People were moving out ahead of the flames.

The fire spread quite rapidly, and was jumping around in YL. Hotspots were popping up all over, and they were taking out homes. There were a couple flare-ups near the Nixon Library, which is pretty distant from the fire itself. The Savi Ranch area was threatened, where there is a Costco that we occasionally shop at. We watched on the news as some major-sized homes were eaten up by the flames, homes we recognized from looking at them while on the 91 freeway or in the Savi ranch area, or driving along Weir Canyon. Additionally, the CDF and Fire Depts were attempting to make a stand against the fire on the north side, to try to keep it from entering the Chino Hills State Park. If it got in there, it would have huge amounts of fuel and little access for trucks or crews.

Then the fire jumped the 91 freeway (8+ lanes) and headed south into the Anaheim Hills area, taking with it the 241 Expressway. Now Anaheim Hills was evacuating also, with the flames being pushed by winds averaging 45 mph, and gusts over 60. This was not as strong a santa ana event as we can have. The 71, 91, and 241 were all closed.

We walked up to the top of the hill to see from our area what the fire looked like. We live on the immediate north side of the State Park, so we had our concerns. It was quite an impressive sight, the smoke coverage was immense, and headed west. At this time it was several miles from us. We left the tv on, and kept an ear tuned to the station that was covering the fire constantly. I later heard that a section of Chino Hills was under mandatory evacuation, but it was a street we didn't recognize. I checked it out against Google maps, and discovered they meant Sleepy Hollow, about 1 mile from us and farther west also. I gave the Zeimas' a call and notified them, and about an hour later (around 1 pm) Erin Z. gave a call back that Dale had been talking with one of the fire marshals, and he speculated that an evacuation notice would go out relatively soon as a reverse 911 call, possibly allowing 45 minutes to do so.

About an hour later we indeed did receive a reverse 911 call, but the first half of the message was cut off because it began talking before our greeting had ended. I had to call Zeimas' to get the full info, but we were given no time frame. What were we going to do? We figured to get completely packed to go, and then make a stand. If it got bad, we could still leave, but if it continued west, we would be fine to stay. They agreed, Vince had already said he wanted to stay. Feikemas were going to stay. We packed all the animals into traveling cages (both parrots, crow, bushtit, canada goose, rabbit, dove, turtle - we had to leave the fish), packed up food for everything, Erin even exchanged nearly empty canisters for full ones, Scott loaded up a bale of hay into the dually, I loaded all the boxes of papers, we had all the computers corralled and extra drives, etc., all the loose cash, medications for the dog, and some extra clothes for us, some toiletries, and then anything else we would think of incidentally. We loaded almost all of it into the car and truck, and then waited.

We watched the entire day, joining with other neighbors up the hill to view the fire's advance. We did this regularly. And we could tell that the fire was spreading out, beginning to creep wider and northward also. It had now spread into several ridges of the State Park.

Towards evening the winds had calmed for us, and at times through the early evening the vague pink glow we could see behind Feikema's house would actually pale out to a nighttime blue. We headed up again, and could see that the fire had advanced considerably in our direction, but still going westward. We could not smell smoke, and definitely were not getting any ash. Fifteen homes had been lost in Corona, 60 in YL, and 30 in Anaheim Hills, so far. Neighbors below us were leaving, and soon just Vince, Feikemas and ourselves were left in our end of the neighborhood.

The calendar rolled over into November 16. Scott and I took our last walk up the hill, it was now around 1 a.m., and the ridges were gone, there was only a huge pink glow in the huge smoke cloud that we could see beyond the Vellano homes. The fire had begun to progress northward, and we were now at risk. We knew it was going to be close.

Scott and I began watering everything in earnest now, and fire engines were beginning to accumulate on the street up Trotter and in Feikema's driveway. Feikemas were now committed to staying. Vince checked in with us, and then left for Rancho Cucamonga, where Erin and their kids had already gone. Several districts were aiding us, and the Chino police were going door-to-door taking records of who was deciding to stay. We told them we were hoping to hold our ground, but that we were packed up, and if it reached critical mass for us, we would be out in a moment. They were 2 of the kindest officers, they didn't criticize or chide us for our hopes. And they wished us luck, several times.

At 3 a.m., we now began to smell smoke and see ash, and the wind was beginning to gust again. The glow was not going away, it was now constant, and worrisome. We were watering closer to the house, and I watched as I could see the smoke begin to move so quickly behind Feikema's, as I would look up the hill while hosing our patio roof. The light was a pink, so bright, and getting brighter, and so quickly it became a bright orange/pink sunlight, easy enough to read by. The temperature was rising, I could feel it, and then the wind began blowing so strongly and was really beginning to roar. I could see the lick of flame light within the smoke, moving so fast, and then I could see the flames licking above the Feikema's house, at least 20' feet above. Then I saw the trees behind his house begin to catch fire. "OH BOY!" I said, and took off for the front of the house running. Ian had looked out when he heard me exclaim, and he told Erin he knew we were going.

I ran around the front and met Scott hurrying towards me. I yelled at him, "I'm loading the horses, get the kids and Cora!" I knew if our silky oak caught fire, then the horses could possibly become too panicked to be moved out easily. I quickly grabbed Seaske and clipped on the lead, Richt looked around sleepily, she wasn't worried, and really, neither was Seaske, in spite of how noisy and windy and chaotic it was becoming. I lead Seaske right into the trailer, but the quick latch wouldn't close, and then she pulled backward, for a moment I had visions of her loose in the streets, but she stood still, then stepped forward to allow me to hook her in, I clipped her halter, and ran out to load up Richt as Scott was coming up the hill with the kids and halfway dragging Cora. Richt loaded just fine, I swung the doors closed and ran forward and pulled open the gate all the way. We had already placed the ramps in the street. Then I tore down the hill to open up the garage for Scott to grab Buddy (canada goose) and Patches (rabbit), both in cages. Ian grabbed Patches from Scott and they ran back up the hill, I closed up the house and opened the bottom gate, started the freestyle and backed out and stopped down below the driveway. A fire marshal was staying close by, and I ran past him to motion Scott out, he was just fine on the ramps, then I ran back down the hill to the freestyle, passed a toad struggling to get up the curb, and turned and ran back, grabbed it, and started to get into the car. The Lord seemed to say, you're going to have a loose toad in the car, at which I ran back and gave it a good, but gentle, toss into our jade plants well into the front yard. Then we headed out. We were the only vehicles on the street except for the firetrucks. We headed out of the canyon, and followed the directions on the emergency CalTrans signs, and headed for Chino Fairgrounds.

We got to the fairgrounds, but they were full, and I was already anticipating that we would be going to Pomona Fairplex, and we were familiar with the place. So Scott followed me, and we headed carefully down Edison to Chino Hills Pkwy and took the back route to the fairplex. We had Patches and Buddy in cages in the dually bed, we didn't want to have cage problems and lose a pet. As we drove down Edison, I tried not to look at the fire direction. The smoke was so ominously high and almost mushroom-cloud-like in the sky, and it was glowing a bright pink underneath. It literally looked like a bomb had gone off...

We arrived at the Fairplex and stabled the horses, set up water buckets and fed them by 4:30 a.m. Then we put Buddy and Patches into another stall and set them up with water and food. Then we decided to spend the night in the vehicles, as we didn't want to roust the birds around so early in the morning by taking them to the McCoy area where the humane society was housing dogs and cats. They had already had a rough evening. We tried to get a little bit of sleep as the sun was beginning to come up. It was 5:30 a.m. Other horses arrived later in the morning, and it was pleasant to pick out the voices of our girls as the animals greeted each other. But, we didn't really seem to sleep, but I was surprised to see that it was 7:55 when I finally roused myself enough to decide to get up.

I had signed the horses in with the guard the night before, so we indicated on the paper we had the next stall also with the goose and rabbit when we exited the next morning to check in with the Red Cross. No problems!

We first dropped by the humane society temporary shelter, and Sheila was there. She said take the birds directly to the vet office at the humane society, and have them house them in a darker, cooler, quieter area. We did so, and it made a difference to be able to set the cages up ourselves and know they were safe. They bent the rules for us. Then we headed for the Red Cross center across the street at Ayala HS.

We checked in there, and heard that "unofficially" no structures had been lost! Praise God!! Then we availed ourselves of the massive amounts of drinks that were available. We were so grateful for such generosity in the people and the businesses that had given of time and goods to support those of us in need. They can't be thanked enough.

We heard reports that the fire had burned well into Brea and had joined with another fire that had started in Tonner canyon, now closing the 57 freeway. And our fire had also burned its way into Diamond Bar. Fourteen hundred homes were being evacuated there also.

We stayed near the RC shelter, and visited with other folks, some who offered us their spare rooms for the night. Complete strangers. We also met with neighbors from down the hill. We went back periodically to tend the horses, then took a Starbucks break and sat silently out in the grass area with Cora. We all began to doze off, especially Cora. The smoke was very bad in the valley. The offshore flow was easing, and now the smoke was coming back upon itself, and the air was quickly getting bad. It was very bad at the fairgrounds with the horses, as it was just sitting in the valleys.

The folks were calling us periodically via cell phone, and even then the service was iffy at times. The house phones never answered for us, we didn't know if it meant the house was gone.

We kept checking back in, after we had tended the horses for the night, as the Fire Marshal was to give us official info regarding the fire and how soon we could expect to return home. Not yet, but it WAS official, no homes were lost! We were so thankful!!

Later that evening, word was out that our area was opened, but the dispensing of emergency passes was a little premature, as we were being turned back to the RC shelter. BUT, at 9 p.m., because we brought up what we had been told by the officers at the entrance to the canyon, they called another marshal, and he confirmed that they had just opened Valley Springs. But it was still closed and under mandatory evacuation west of us. When I showed the pass to the police officer at the road closure, he took a look and laughed, saying, "ooooo, you just made it!"

We pulled up and were amazed to see that there appeared to be no fire damage to any plants. We walked around with flashlights, and all looked well. We decided to take showers, eat, get some real sleep, and then take a look in the morning.

In the morning, I was thinking in bed before we got up, that we should get together with the Feikemas and Zeimas' to give thanks to God for our safety and that of our properties.

We got up to take a look outside, and it was true, nothing had been touched in our yards, all our beautiful trees were untouched, all of them. It was lovely. We walked up the knoll to the little oak lookout tree, and it had made it! It had some scorch on one side, but it was complete! The rest of the terrain surrounding us for miles is a moonscape. And still extremely hot, you could feel the heat still pressing in on your skin. It was the heat of an oven, not the sun, because it was coming at us from the side and below, and the morning was early. The hills are barren, only in some of the deepest drainages did those oaks escape the flames. Dale Feikema was climbing up to the water tank, saw us, and called to us to come up, so we did. There was much thankfulness to see each other well. We listened to his tale to tell, and he got our perspective, and then we went down to Carolyn to touch base. Carolyn then said that we needed to get together to give the Lord thanks for keeping us safe. We made arrangements to meet at their house at 8p.m., and did so, for a short evening of fellowship and thanksgiving.

During that day we busied ourselves with bringing home the horses first, and then the birds. All were well, and so happy to get home. So were we. It seemed like such a long time had passed, and in a sense it was, it was a continuous flow of activity and concern, and we were quite tired.

We also learned that at least 125 power poles were destroyed from the fire, so it was going to take quite sometime for them to be replaced. Obviously that included our phone lines.

After we got the animals settled and began watering to replenish the thirsty plants, Erin and I put together a quick sign to hang on the front gate thanking the firefighters. We owe them a debt we can't begin to express, as they were there ready and able when the time came for us to flee, and they went to work.

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I posted this comment over at a blog site I frequent and believe the greatest lesson to remember is my conclusion at the end of it:

Hi Joyce,

Everyone, please forgive me for the length of this post...

My family was one of those in the midst of those fires. We evacuated when the flames got into the neighbor's trees across from our house, it was 3:40 Sunday morning. The Lord has placed a fairly substantial burden on my heart as a result of the weekend's "adventures", something I need to still ponder over more and drive deeply into my spirit, for appreciation and understanding.

We have been meeting with the 2 additional families that live at the end of the street, as we do, meeting to pray for our nation, our leaders, and to thank the Lord for His plan and protection, to submit ourselves to His will being done. Many things.

On the day the fires started, we became alert, but they were many miles away. We all live in an area where those remote hills are our backyard. We regularly hiked up to a knoll to watch the progress of smoke to the west. Through the day that smoke continued to the west, but we remained watchful. Mid-afternoon the fire marshals expressed concern that the fire was spreading somewhat laterally, so we made decisions to prepare ourselves to evacuate, but to make a stand until that point. But as we continued to watch, the fires and smoke continued to go west. We packed up everything of value, and in our case it meant preparing quite a few critters also, not a small task. We loaded up, and then watered and watched and waited. If we left right away, it would easily be several days before we would be allowed back in. We preferred to stay.

At midnight one of the families left. We remained, and the family across from us had also chosen to stay. By 2 a.m. we were now seeing a strong pink glow coming from behind our neighbor's house, but we still smelled no smoke, and the winds were quite calm for us. We made our last walk up the hill and now saw that the ridges were obscured by a solid wall of pink smoke. BUT, it was still heading west. At 3 a.m. we noticed the wind had picked up and now we were getting the smoke and ash. (Connecting with a neighbor down the hill later, he said that when he left around midnight, the smoke and ash was blowing straight down the street and he knew it was time to leave, but we above were not aware of that).

At 3:00 a.m. the fires turned north, and we watched as rapidly billowing pink/orange smoke turned into rapidly coiling 20' flames behind our neighbor hold-out, and then the trees in his backyard caught fire. At this point, those folks were unable to leave because the firecrews had parked them in. We knew we now had to go, our horses were calm, but should the tree above them catch, things could have gotten worse. And it was now obvious that we had stayed as long as we could, and needed to leave it to the professionals.

All that day we didn't know if we had homes to return to. We had our most valuable things, our kids and our critters, and the other mandatories we had already packed, but we also knew there were many others that had already lost their homes. Late that afternoon, we were informed that there had been no structures lost in our area. We wept.

That evening we were allowed back on temporary emergency passes, but it was 9:30 at night, and we couldn't see what had been touched by flame. We all showered and slept, it had been a long 40 hours without. How grateful we were for warm water and beds!

In the morning we walked out astonished, as we gathered with the family that had been blocked in, and surveyed what had taken place. We were surrounded by a moonscape, right up to our property lines. And the most amazing thing was that none of us had lost a tree, a twig, a bush, we had suffered no loss of any sort.

We gathered together that evening with several of the families to have a prayer gathering of thanks to the Lord for His protection.

I am sorry that this is so long, perhaps it's part of the catharsis needed for the type of experience, but the stronger lesson seemed to be that, first, it was, and is, wise to prepare for the approaching storms, to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. Second, we had been praying for the Lord's protection for some time, and as believers He has promised His presence to be always with us, but at this time we made special petitions to Him. He seemed to answer that from the reality that everything we have been "stewards" of was also saved and preserved unharmed (I was even running down the street to toss a toad into our front yard, he was trying to escape the firetrucks). I have thought about Rahab, who brought into her small room all her family and their households, and they all were saved. That has lately seemed to be a strongly-impressed account that I am going to ponder for quite some time. We strongly feel that God spread His wings over us, and protected us, and all that He has put into our hands to care for. So many times we have prayed to Him on that very subject.

I guess my closing thoughts are these...we can do our best, to look ahead, speculate what is coming, how best to prepare, try to cover all the contingencies, and even with all that "preparation" you have no idea until you are looking it in the teeth. Things can change shape so quickly, change direction so fast, come upon you so suddenly, that you can never be prepared for all the possibilities. The only thing we can truly do is trust the Lord, and we don't really know how to do that until we are thrown into a situation beyond our scope or scale. In the midst of all the increasing upheaval and birth throes that this world is going to endure (and that is painfully, frighteningly apparent from the current information I come to this site to receive), He really is our Rock and our Refuge. He really is our shelter in the storm. Were we frightened? Probably, I don't know really, but I know we were intensely focused and purposeful in moving as fast as possible. I don't know if we had the luxury of time to feel fright. We will all need to do what our individual circumstances dictate, but God is in the midst of each one of those situations. He truly, truly is, I don't know how to express any stronger. As we are seeing, it seems literally all hell is breaking out, and yet He is so "right there", even in the midst of the turmoil.

I am still extracting the nuggets out of this experience, so am sure there is even more that is important, but right now I wanted to share with you on the thought of judgment on California. If it was an act of judgment, which I don't deny and also agree with, the Lord still is faithful to His children in the midst of it.

hugs to all

*********************

Dale's story:

Dale had been conferring with the firemen throughout the day, and towards the midnight hour the crews had taken up residence in his driveway, as he had said he would stay. In the meantime, they had taken his garden hoses and hooked them together on a 3-head gang and had those lines filling their tanker. There is no hydrant close enough to protect the Bermudes, Zeimas, and Feikema properties. He's wondering what his water bill is going to look like...

When the fire approached the top of our ridge, they had already determined how they would fight it and what they would let burn. It is extremely difficult terrain behind us, extremely vertical slope and rough, and it appears they let it burn to the top of the ridge behind us. Then, when it hit the sycamore tree right on his property line, that is when they jumped into action. They had determined to save that tree, because if it caught, it would feed the fire into the heart of our community, and then it would take off through the thick oaks and eucalyptus trees we all have, and we would have structure loss.

Dale said he now appreciates the point of view of folks who live through hurricanes. The noise of the wind and the lack of vision is very frightening. He and Carolyn were huddled in the center of their house praying. He would occasionally sneak to the window to look out, but he couldn't see anything beyond 4 feet, and it was intensely pink and whipping embers, and the roar of the wind was incredible. He didn't know how much of the embers were hill and how much was his house! The firemen had instructed him to leave one door unlocked, and he said periodically one would stick his head in the door, and tell him to go check his attic for any embers, and then he would be gone, so fast.

As dawn approached, the helicopters came back into play, and Dale said there were 5 of them doing a carousel of waterdrops from a source in the golf course, and then make the drop along the fire edge across from us. A couple times they showered him with the remaining dribble while he was unpacking their vehicles. Over the course of the morning he watched as the flames and smoke traveled westward and seemed to abate, only to then watch as a new section caught, flared up, and roared to life.

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At the end of this, our fire burned over 30,000 acres.

I posted this to Channel 9 News, as they were collecting "Thank You"s to go to the Firefighters:

Words can't begin to express the gratitude and heartfelt thanks we owe you. So many of you came together on our behalf, from so many departments and cities, and made our homes and our lives your priority. You have touched us in ways you may never fully understand, it seems so small and insignificant to just say "Thank You". But, we truly do thank you, and pray that our Lord will bless you, as you have blessed us and so many others.

Sarah Elmassian, Carbon Canyon, Chino Hills

 

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