We lost our homes in the wildfires of 2003 in Lake Arrowhead. It was a time that we just didn’t think we would ever get over. So to see homes burning once again in Lake Arrowhead and San Diego was a deja vu. At the time, it was heart wrenching to see everything we had go up in smoke. There was nothing left in the ashes, absolutely nothing, except for a jar of pennies my son was saving but we couldn’t tell that they were pennies, as they had all melted into one big heap of copper. From where all the houses had burned, it looked like a nuclear war had come through. The fire randomly picked and chose which homes to take. Three hundred homes in our neighborhood had burned to the ground yet one house across the street made it completely unscathed, and a few yards up the road a lone wooden playhouse had been spared. We lost everything. Our thirteen year old family cat, Baby Ruth, perished in the fire. All of our physical memories like photos of ancestors, my great grandma’s rocking chair, a violin that had been played by my husband’s great great grandfather; all of it gone. Yet in spite of all the destruction, we felt very thankful. Our family was intact.
We lived next door to my parents who had a cute little mother-in-law house. Our daughter could walk to Grandma’s every day with it being only twenty yards away. Our homes were deep in the woods of Cedar Glen and even deeper in the stands of trees that were dying from the bark beetle. The unforgiving pest, which had already ravaged forests from Colorado to Alaska, beetle had been attacking Lake Arrowhead and its surrounding communities for years. The result of its ravenous consumption was millions of trees standing like matchsticks ready to fuel a fire unlike anyone could have ever imagined. In mid October 2003, Lee and I were scheduled for a number of lectures in the Midwest. We decided to take my mom and our then four year old daughter with us to the Colorado dates. Dad and our three teenagers stayed at home. On our way back from Colorado, our teenage daughter reached us by cell telling us there was a fire up on the mountain. She was concerned. From the tightness in her voice, we knew this was real. The “Big One” everyone on the mountain had feared for so long had arrived. learn more about California wild fire causes
Lake Arrowhead and the surrounding mountain communities had just two escape routes, and they were inadequate in the best of circumstances. Lee called some colleagues at the newspaper and some friends we knew at the fire department. They related the seriousness of the situation. There were fires everywhere, and some were threatening Big Bear and Cedar Glen. Evacuation was still voluntary, but the firefighters said it would be wise to get out now. We called our kids and Dad and told them to meet us at the bottom of the mountain at a local hotel for the night. No one expected the houses to burn. We assumed we’d be back in our house within a few days. We left food out for Baby Ruth since she was nowhere to be seen, and we commenced our waiting out the fire. One of the problems when there is a fire is that there are rarely accurate news reports. One report will swear that all the local businesses are totally wiped out, and then moments later another reporter on another channel will be standing right in front of them depicting them as perfectly fine. We didn’t get accurate news. The only news that was real was of true videos capturing neighborhoods that burned. We actually saw our homes burning on the television news. We knew at that moment that we were officially without a home.
It took over a week for the fire to be extinguished before we were able to return home. When you lose your home to fire, there is something inside of you that insists you have to see the remains. When we turned onto our block, we couldn’t even tell where one block ended and the next one began. The fire had taken our roads, our cars, and our animals. It had eaten everything and left nothing. The ashes were still warm after a week. It was a moonscape. While we were there, a woman approached, asking if this had been our home. We nodded but just couldn’t speak. She said she owned a rental in Lake Arrowhead and wondered if we would like to live there until we figured out what we were going to do. Amazing. An angel (and many more angels) would come to our aid that day. When we arrived at the rental home, someone we didn’t even know had already gone from neighborhood to neighborhood asking if they would be willing to clean out their garages and give us anything we might need. That evening a huge moving van pulled up full of new everything: clothes, dishes, bedding, beds, more than we could have ever needed. Phone calls came from people with gift cards to grocery stores and clothing stores. It was truly incredible, the kindness that was offered us.