Friday, June 20, 2014


  Last week was very hot. I'm originally from Arizona, so I know hot. Summers in southern AZ exceed 100ยบ most days, and while oppressive, you make due (and stay indoors). SoCal has great temps, but it only has to be in the high 80's to seem warm to me. My theory is that the moisture in the air somehow magnifies the intensity of the heat. Last week it was in the high 90's, almost unbearable. It was also super windy. Not a good combination of conditions.

  Tuesday afternoon, D came home and turned on the news. This is fairly uncommon for him to do considering the kids have homework and usually the TV doesn't get turned on until they are all asleep (that is if we don't fall asleep with them). He turned on the news and that's when I realized that heat plus wind can equal fire in this part of the world. Big, quick, raging fire.

  The Bernardo fire was far from us but close to D's work. Also close to where a lot of our friends live. They evacuated the area fairly quickly (5,000 homes) and we watched as the fire raged across golf courses and through all the dry grass and bushes that grace our unlandscaped hills (oh yes, this is technically a desert). The danger seemed to pass quickly, fire crews secured most of the area by that evening and no structures were lost. D went to work the next day without hesitation.

  Then another weird thing happened on his way to work. He called me after dropping the boys off at school and was kinda in a tizzy. A pine tree had fallen across four lanes of traffic and he had to swerve to miss it. Technically he didn't miss it, he drove over the top of it, but he and our youngest son were ok. The truck next to him was smashed to bits. No one was injured, but I kept thinking, 1, 2, what's the 3rd thing? Why do things happen in threes? Am I an old wife believing in these tales?

  Leeloo and I went to a friends house that morning to have some kiddie pool fun. The kids were cooling off when we noticed a column of smoke rising towards the west of us. Then we heard sirens.  The column was large enough for all of us to get on our phones and try to assess the situation. Luckily one of our neighbors is a Fire Chief nearby. I immediately sent him a text and he informed me that there were two fires: the first was about 4 miles away in Carlsbad and the other north of us in Fallbrook. He assured me that many fighters were on the scene and that everything was ok. The sirens didn't stop though. And before leaving I called D to see if I needed to pick the kids up from school (which was closer to the fire). A pick up was already coordinated and he was also grabbing the Fire Chief's son - that seemed like a bad sign.

Lots of fun pre-smoke. 

The smoke on the way home.

  By one the kids were home. The news was on and we were following intently. More little fires were popping up all around us, but the biggest one was what they were calling the Poinsettia fire. 15,000 people were evacuated. The City of Carlsbad declared a state of emergency. We watched as newscasters stood by and narrated homes burning. A new fire began east of us and the boys sat down too, hoping to see T's dad on the news.  I remember being in crisis situations when I was little - mostly floods in AZ - and it was always way more exciting than scary. Maybe it's because you still have the safety of your parents. But I could definitely feel the buzz from the boys,  they were jumping around the house and texting friends about who saw or knew what.

 I was on high alert. I have been in floods, hurricanes and earthquakes, but this was my first crisis situation as a parent. I was stressed but I was ready. It was scary but it was also a Wednesday. Leeloo was napping and I was helping our oldest with his Greek Mythology project (due on Friday). We worked through the afternoon until D popped in and asked if he could speak to me. It was important. Uh oh.

  He took me onto our patio, and there was a brand new cloud of smoke. Directly behind us. The air smelled like camp fire.

The view from our patio. 

  At that point the Poinsettia fire was about five miles west of us, and the new fire, eventually called the Cocos fire was five miles east of us. There are some fairly major roads that separated the Poinsettia fire from us, the Cocos fire was just a few dry ravines and hillsides away.

  I was worried, but D assured me that it was still far enough away. We had to drop the boys off to their biomom so we all piled in the car and watched the smoke more intently as we drove about 5 minutes away. Luckily they were headed out of town to go camping so we didn't haver to worry about them. There was an ominous feeling in the air and I began to receive texts that our friends who lived up the road were being evacuated. I scanned the news but soon realized that Twitter was my best bet for information. The whole trip took about 15 minutes, but in that time our street was barricaded and police cars were positioned to keep people out. 

On the way to drop the boys off. 

Barricades being put up.
  There are three parallel streets that lead into our neighborhood. Luckily we beat the barricades on the last street so we could get home. I was happy that D, the chiquita and I were together, but we didn't have anything with us. The mandatory evacuations were still a mile out of our perimeter, so we went home to start packing. At that point D was still convinced that we didn't have to go. He's seen many a fire growing up here and didn't feel the threat was immediate. As the smoke filled the air the sky took on an eerie orange glow, ash started falling around us.

  I posted updates on social media and many people (mostly my mother), were telling us to flee. It was dinner time, and since 2 year olds don't know much about crisis, we had to break for food. I felt so out of sorts. I had no idea how or what to pack. Clothes? Sentimental items? Strictly necessities?

Out the window we heard a plane. A huge DC-10 super tanker was overhead. D was convinced that this would end any more spread.

  Around 7pm we got our first evacuation notice. It was voluntary, but we decided it was a good idea (I think D was just trying to ease my mind). Our friends in Cardiff opened their house to us and we headed that way. I packed a couple of changes of clothes and a bag of toys and such for Leeloo. I also grabbed my ruby ring (a gift from my father) and a photo album that has all my childhood pictures. 

  As we were driving away the smoke was heavier and darker. 

Our last view from the patio.

You can see blue sky but it was dark enough to need lights.

The smoke filled sunset.

The view from afar.
It was almost 8pm by the time we made it to our friend's home. They had also taken in a Carlsbad woman and her 3 year old son. When we arrived they had just put their 3 month old daughter to bed. At that point the governor had declared a state of emergency in San Diego County. Nine fires had burned a total of 9,000 acres.

The closest the fire was 4 miles (about 5 min) from where we lived.

It was a relief to be out of danger, but a whole new other stress to be in house with a sleeping infant and two excited toddlers. I spent an hour trying to simultaneously talk to the adults about the fires, entertain two children and keep noise levels at a whisper. Even screen time couldn't calm them down. Around nine I locked Leeloo and I in the den (where we were camping out - and thankfully the only room with AC) and tried to ease her towards sleep. She stayed up until almost eleven that night. I was exhausted and had to finally call D in to help (he was glued to the iPad and fire updates). The three of us cuddled on the floor and slept.

Thursday morning we woke up super early and I sent D out for bagels. He came back and reported that the smoke had cleared. He texted our Fire Chief friend and learned that the fires were mostly contained. We ate breakfast and chatted and discussed returning home. The kids and the world seemed calmer. D had a planned golf trip that day and was debating if he should cancel. We decided to drive up to our neighborhood and assess the situation.

Kids enjoying breakfast together totally unaware of fires.
On the drive over the sky was fairly clear. The evacuations in Carlsbad had been lifted and traffic didn't seem that bad. The barricades were still up on our street, but we easily found a way in and drove passed our apartment into our little community. There were several people out and walking their dogs or standing an chatting. There was another barricade that was manned by police and D stopped to ask what was happening. The cop explained that they were containing the fires but no one was allowed north of his barricade (about a mile east of our place). We went home and we decided it was ok to for D to leave. Many of our friends were staying at hotels and they all were going to the beach. Leeloo and I decided to join them - scariness behind us.

Clear skies and happy day.
The beach was great as always. It reminded that we don't just live in an inferno. I ran into an old friend and my mom came by to say hello. By the time we were ready to head home the sky was turning dark again. There were new black columns of smoke towards the east. I got an alert that the evacuation was now mandatory. Leeloo needed her nap so I headed back to Cardiff. 

Once again she was too excited to sleep. I was too stressed to try to manage her. A house with a baby is decidedly different than a house with a toddler. Glass unaffixed countertops and open outlets, bookshelves and heavy silver decorations, an unattainable level of silence expected for the chiquita. I was grateful that our friends opened their doors, but I needed a different option.

The friend I saw at the beach had offered her house up to us. She has six year old twins. I called her up almost immediately and asked if we could stay. She said yes and I was relieved. 

I stopped at the grocery store on the way. There are so many things that I have in tow for Leeloo that I don't realize I need access to. The biggest being snacks. I bought a cooler bag and filled it with small things for her to eat. At this point I was skeptical of when we could finally head home.

As soon as we got to M's house a weight lifted up. The kids immediately clicked and were playing. It was so nice to be invited to a house that was chaotic and loud and messy and filled with laughter. M made dinner and gave me a glass of wine. The kids played and we hung out - for the first time I didn't talk about fires or watch the news. 
Blurry pic, but you can see the fun being had.

I did have to venture home though. That morning, when we thought everything was ok, I had unpacked some things. Important things like Leeloo's antibiotics from her ear infection the week before. I also wanted to grab the iGuy - because who knew when we would be cleared and screen time can be a great occupier.

I drove to our neighborhood and parked alongside the main thoroughfare. There were cars lined up and down the streets in every direction away from the barricades. I hiked up the road, and down the road, and up the road (because San Diego is hilly) and had flashes of all the apocalyptic movies I've ever seen. There were a few other people making the hike, with backpacks and such, but mostly everything was empty and still. The ground had white tufts of ash everywhere. The air was still filled with a burning scent, but the air was clearer. I filled a backpack and had more supplies in tow. On the way back to my car I saw a pregnant woman huffing uphill reminding me that things can always be more challenging. The whole trip took about an hour, on my drive home I saw more smoke to the north of us. It was unrelenting. 

When I got back to M's the kids were curled on the couch with a movie. Leeloo was so comfortable and I realized it was the first time I had left her with anyone other than my parents. We took a short walk to see if we could pinpoint the new smoke, but we couldn't see anything. By the time we got in the chiquita was already saying "Night night mami". When I took her to bed, she was asleep in minutes. I went back downstairs, had more wine and totally vented with M. We hung out and stayed up too late and it was much needed. I couldn't stop thanking her for her generosity and hospitality.

Happy cartoon breakfast.
Friday morning we decided to try to meet friends at the beach again. M had a day filled with errands and birthdays but they were gonna try to head to the beach as well. It was one of those mornings when you take two steps forward and three steps back. By ten the kids were dressed, but M and I were still wandering in our pj's (maybe the wine had something to do with that). It might have been closer to eleven by the time we were all packed up and headed out. Leeloo was so sad to say goodbye to the kids - I had to reassure her that we would see them in a bit. By the time we were on the road she was already asking for food again. It was another hot day and I was realizing that the beach may not have been the best plan. Even though we were in our suits I opted for a restaurant instead. I had a hot and hungry two year old that was already tired from the excitement of playing all morning. It was at this moment that I felt the most displaced and helpless. We ate and then headed back towards Cardiff. 

By the time we got there Leeloo was so exhausted that she fell asleep on the couch. She laid there for hours. 

The day before I had heard an announcement on the radio that certain downtown hotels were offering evacuation rates. I had an appointment downtown on Saturday morning, so it was convenient to head that way. I called and booked a room for Friday night anticipating another homeless day. My mom was also with us that weekend so it was nice to know we'd all have beds.

During the chiquita's epic nap I left her with my mom and decided to get some more supplies. I headed to CVS and then to TJ Max because I had been wearing dirty clothes. 

When I got back to Cardiff, Leeloo woke up and we drove to the hotel. On our way I got the email that we could return home. I made the decision to continue driving away from the fires and escape into some comfort for the night. We stayed at the Westgate hotel downtown. We had a view of the city and the sea, and we ordered room service. 

Enjoying the bed.

Window view.

Walking around. 


The next morning we packed up yet again and picked up breakfast to eat at Balboa park (where my meeting was). I left the chiquita with her abuelita while I did a photography shoot and then we visited the Science Center. It was so nice to not be rushing from one place to another. It was also nice knowing that home was the next stop and D would be back from his trip that evening (side note: he kept in contact the whole time we were away and I assured him that we were ok and that he didn't need to come home prematurely).
Enjoying the Science Center.

Playing shadows with her abuelita. 

Light bugs!

Bubbles are always a hit.
First non-sphryical balloon.

That afternoon we drove home. It was so nice to be able to do that. Our home, our things, our comfort. Leeloo loved her room and was so very happy to see her belongings again. The next day we went to the Farmer's Market and all seemed in order again. The fires were scary but they were more of an inconvenience than anything. We were lucky to have amazing friends that opened their doors to us. One night in a hotel was fun, but I know people that tried to entertain multiple children in one room for days. I can't imagine that let alone the lives of refugees that have been displaced for years and sometimes forever. With each day I gain more appreciation for this life that I have been granted. I kiss my children and am happy to have comfort and love.

Farmer's Market on Sunday. Back to normality.