The California Wildfires Eyewitness Account

Submitted by STG3 Randi Roberts

We woke up on the morning of the 25th and thought it was snowing in San Diego .  My ship had been in port since the 17th.  I had stayed out overnight with some old friends from the ship and we had woken early to go back to base.  We walked outside to see fluffy white flakes falling from the sky.  Our 1st thought was that it was snow, but it was too warm to be snowing.  Upon closer inspection of the cars in the parking lot, we realized it was ash.  None of us had seen the news yet, so we didn't know what was
going on.  We walked though the parking lot shielding our eyes and making "ash" jokes along the way.  By the time we reached the car, we have decided that everyone, "smelt like ash" and being hung over, we "looked like ash." We were not hungry after that walk because we got our fill of ash for breakfast. 

We got back to the ship just as the sun was rising.  The sun rise was full of weird colors and a blanket of dark skies stood just off the horizon.  The air smelt like smoke and people were coughing, but it wasn't quite thick enough to actually choke a person.  Every where we looked, there was ash.  We finally got to a TV showing the news.  There was fire burning all around us.  That was when the calls started pouring in from our shipmates stuck beyond the borders of San Diego .  A lot of people had taken off to visit family or see Las Vegas for the weekend.  All the highways were closed except for I-5, which runs along the coast from LA to San Diego .  All flights were diverted to Phoenix , AZ.   The only way into San Diego was for people to drive all the way up to Bakersfield just to hop I-5 back down.  By then, the news was calling the fires the worst California had seen and it was only a day into them.  It was a mess.

We all showered and decided to brave the madness, since it would be one of the few days that we had off.  My friends and I put on clothes that we thought would blend with the gray of the ash.  We walked out into the twilight zone.  The sky was an eerie yellow color.  The sun was high in the sky, a muted red.  That was when I called home to see if they were watching the news.  No, my Mom said.  Kali and her were doing homework.  I told her about the ashes, the sky, how Navy housing was burning just a few miles away.  Over 3,000 Navy homes had already been evacuated by then.  My Mom caught the preview for the national news and told me to keep her informed. I told her I would and she ended the conversation by telling me she loved me and to be safe.  Thanks Mom.

My friends and I took the trolley to Mission Valley Mall.  The passengers on the trolley were speculating the cause of the fire and how long it was going to last.  Nothing out of the ordinary for San Diego public transportation, with the exception of a middle aged woman in the seat across from us.  She claimed that the fires were caused by terrorists, who ruined her vacation.  "It was ok," she followed on, "All I am going to lose is some
clothes and five pairs of panties at 88 cents a pair from Wal-Mart."  Wow, you have to love public transportation.

We got to the mall, which is open air for the most part.  The fires were only three trolley stops away and it smelled like we were standing directly in the smoke of a bon fire.  Half of the mall was closed, but the movie theatre was still open.  We went in to Under the Tuscan Sun.  It was a great movie, but we were all a little tense during it.  We were waiting for the movie to stop and to be told to evacuate.  The movie ended without
interruption and we made our way back though the smoke filled air and the falling ash. 

The next day, everyone was issued respirators to go outside in.  The sky was still yellow, the ash was falling at a slower rate and we were all calling this Armageddon.  The ship was supposed to be leaving and heading back to Pearl Harbor , but the smoke was so thick that we couldn't see the Coronado Bridge to navigate out.  By the end of the evening, all of our shipmates had made it back to the ship.  They were exhausted from driving and stinky from the smoke, but never the less, safe and sound. 

The fires were contained a little bit that night and we woke up to see the outline of the bridge.  It wasn't clear, but it would do.  The ship got underway and left behind what we were all calling the "ashtray of the world."  My friends and I tried to laugh about it as we left, but I know deep inside, we were all a little more nervous than we wanted to admit.  We knew we were the lucky ones, we got to sail away on the ship we call home.  Many other Navy and civilian families were not as fortunate.  To them I send my deepest sympathies. 

This was not the most pleasant trip the Navy has afforded me, nor the worst.  It was another experience to take with me through life.  It would have been better to watch the fires on a TV from afar, but since that couldn't happen, I will just be happy that my family is safe and tucked away in the arms of beautiful Charlevoix and Beaver Island .

NOTE: Thanks, Randi, for sharing your experiences with all of us.


Community Calendar

Don't forget to check the Community Calendar for upcoming Beaver Island meetings and events.  I try to keep it current so if your organization would like something posted on it, please get me the information asap.  I must have it at least one week in advance, preferably two.


Page Two of the News on the 'Net