One year ago I woke up with a feeling that we were going to have to evacuate our home. Fires were raging all around and new ones were starting daily. My husband brushed off my worry and tried to calm my fears, but I just knew today was the day. I was recovering from a not so easy C-Section (not that any C-Section is easy), I had a 7 day old, a 22 month old, a very stressed out 7 year old, my husband was working 30 miles away in downtown San Diego and Southern California was suffering from a bad case of Santa Ana winds. We were and are suffering from record drought conditions so basically Southern California was a tinderbox just moments from bursting into flames.
So that morning, 7 days after having a C-Section I decided I would not be taking any pain medication because I just knew that I was going to need to get my kids out of there!
The day before we had a big scare in the community southeast of us. That fire might have been contained, but my fears were not. You could still smell the smoke in the air.
Shortly after my friend Sara arrived to help out with Zach and Caileigh we received word that there was a fire over the hill about 2.5 miles from us in Carlsbad.
That is right where my husbands office is and it was being evacuated. Because he was downtown, his employees got all of the important documents and servers out of the office. An office building just a few blocks away was burning, so this was no joke.
Not long after that, there was smoke to the south of us.
Not long after that there was a fire burning directly north of us as well. That fire basically cut off coastal San Diego from going anywhere north.
Carlsbad friends (Mama Mary) evacuated to our house. We may have been surrounded by fire, but we weren’t in any immediate danger. My house was the safe place or so we thought.
We spent the afternoon glued to the local news and scanning all social media platforms for any news. We decided to pick Ellie up from school early and I was actually starting to think that we might be ok. That’s when my phone started to ping me with non-stop messages. There was a fire heading up the hill towards our neighborhood.
I frantically called my husband, but there was no way he was going to make it back up to us. There was no getting into our community even if he had made it up in time to help us evacuate. It was up to us to get everyone out of there. Three adults, one teen and five kids.
Within moments of me hanging up with my husband there was a police helicopter flying overhead telling us to evacuate. We all kicked into gear. Packing, gathering, loading computers, baby gear and panicking inside while trying not to show it on the outside.
I have some amazing friends! I still think back to this day and get choked up. There is no way I could have done all this without them.
Loaded up and ready to go, I took one more second to run through the house and mentally say goodbye. I had no idea if I would see it again.
This is where I would like to tell you we sped away, but it was more like we waiting in a line of traffic to get out of our neighborhood for almost an hour. There was only one way out and 3000 homes to evacuate. It’s unnerving to see the smoke from all the fires, the flames coming up over the hill and knowing that you’re trapped in a traffic jam. The kids stayed calm by singing Let It Go over and over and over again.
You can really tell the true nature of a person in an emergency. There were people calm and kind making sure everyone had their turn at the traffic lights. There were people panicking cutting others off and driving on the wrong side of the road. There was even a frantic mom trying to get back into the community through a police barricade. This is where I broke down and cried. The police pulled their tasers on this woman, who is not unlike me, as she tried to break through their barricade. I’m not sure what I would have done.
Finally we made it out and as we turned up the hill toward the blue sky Ellie looked back and saw the flames. This might have been the first time she has ever been at a loss of words.
After a sleepless night in a hotel we learned that our home made it as did our community. The fire stopped right at the crest of the hill. Though we were spared, many were not. Homes and memories were lost and sadly one life.
After a few days we were finally allowed to come home. The air had a thick smoke smell and ash was every where.
I look at these photo’s and tears still come to my eyes, but I learned that my kids and I are way stronger than I thought we were. My family is safe and I realized that the stuff inside my house really isn’t that important. As long as I have my family and my friends I have a home. A little ash is nothing.
Check out Stefanie’s photos and story from last year.