June 2003 Fire, page 1
On June 21, 2003, I looked up from working to see a fire just beginning on the hillside above us to
the west. It appeared to originate near a chapel parking lot that is often used as a pickup point for
illegal immigrants and we first believed it was from an abandoned campfire. The fire department
announced later that someone there had been using a welder and sparks had ignited the grass. I
can't imagine anyone being dumb enough to use a welder out in the open on such a windy day.
I took this picture about five minutes after I first saw the blaze and it had already doubled in size.
The chapel is hidden by the large cloud of smoke.
The grass was extremely dry and the winds rapidly pushed the fire southward up the ridge, toward
the left of the picture.
The fire swept across the face of the mountain along a diagonal line, first racing up the ridges and
then moving down the slopes toward us.
Soon the entire peak was engulfed. Firefighters had first tried to contain the fire with slurry
planes, but high winds made it unsafe for them to continue.
More fire trucks with as many as 250 firefighters soon arrived, and helicopters began dropping
water along defensive lines.
As it became obvious that the fire couldn't be contained, the priority switched to protecting
homes. Here the fire has moved much closer to us.
We got the final word to evacuate about 3:00 in the afternoon. I took this picture as we drove
out, and the fire was closer to the road than it looks. The heat was pretty intense.
I took this picture from the fire station less than a mile away. We tried to find a vantage point to
see if our homes were burning, then finally drove into town to spend the night with friends.