Flaming memories from California

View of canyons, hills near my former home in Orange County, CA

View of canyons, hills near my former home in Orange County, CA, 1999


Watching the TV coverage of the widespread fires in the Los Angeles area obviously ignites memories in me. Fires, like mudslides, earthquakes and freeways, are a part of life there. The most recent episode is severe even by California standards, and I can personally attest to how scary and disruptive the flames can be.

I was unemployed in 2002 after a downsizing at the Orange County Register newspaper when I saw on a sports bar’s TV that fire department helicopters were circling an area near my house in Rancho Santa Margarita. (My photo above gives a rough view of the area.) Then a friend called to relay the news and to pass along that news reports were advising people to stay away from the area. So for much of the day, I was displaced, keeping my fingers crossed and watching news reports. What, I wondered, would I come home to?

Well after sunset, TV was advising that fire authorities were letting residents only back into the area. (Lookie-loos always are a factor in disasters.) So I ventured toward the homestead. Indeed, a police officer made me produce my driver’s license to re-enter my subdivision. My house and the others were unscathed, but the hillsides you see above were eerily charred. Small blazes still pock-marked the crest of the hill, and smoke was heavy in the air.

The next morning, things were still dreadful. Anyone with even mild respiratory problems would have had an awful time breathing. The scattered fires still were going. There were no traffic restrictions, though, and authorities assured residents that the worst was over. It was certainly heartening in the weeks afterward to drive down Antonio Parkway and see the green patches gradually emerge from the blackened hillside. Life goes on.

Another RSM blogger gives a good account of the 2002 fires from a work-at-home/parent perspective.

Another episode that hit home was in 1993, when the Orange County oceanside city of Laguna Beach (KTLA video) was hit with massive blazes. One Register editor, Terry Wimmer, refused to leave his dwelling, even directing some of the coverage from his rooftop via telephone. The days-long firestorm was such an event that the Register boosted the size of the main news section by as much as a dozen pages more than once.

People from afar read accounts like this and view news reports on TV and online and wonder why anyone would live in such a place. Hey, there’s a fire season in California, and they are given names, just like hurricanes.

But people DO live there, just like they live with rain in Seattle and snow in North Dakota. Whenever a massive flame breaks out in SoCal, I’m glued to the TV and computer. It’s much like an old soldier who wants to jump back into combat when war breaks out somewhere.

And when those flames die down or are conquered, some people will rebuild their homes, or find others. And they will be in a place where they can surf and ski in the same day, or take a cruise to the Mexican Riviera without first taking a plane.

Carry on, SoCal. I’m with you in spirit.


About Steve Burns

I live in the Atlanta area. I also lived for many years in Southern California. I'm into mainstream media, social media, sports, business and politics. I worked for AOL's Patch, but this is my personal blog. I'm on Twitter (@bsteve76), Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. See ya 'round!
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