Warning: This blog is under the influence of the Holy Spirit. (That's actually a blessing of course. I'm just trying to be fair to the skeptics.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Great 2013 Mt. Diablo Fire and the Non-Evacuation Evacuation

It was just before 2 PM on Sunday.  I just set a rock in place for a little landscaping I was doing when I turned and saw the smoke. I looked bad. Undoubtedly, a fire had begun somewhere north of my home in the vicinity of Marsh Creek Rd. and Morgan Territory Rd., which was about 1.5 miles away.

I jumped on my Kubota and drove to my friend Tim’s home about 300 yards away. I am surprised and glad to see my good friend Jon there as well. He happened to be on his way elsewhere when he saw the fire and decided to head to Tim’s house to lend support. 

From Tim’s home we could see more clearly the advancing wall of smoke as it headed in our direction. During this time I thought I heard about 5 muffled explosions coming from the direction of the fire.  In very short time, Cal Fire observation aircraft are circling above but there were no air attack aircraft in the fight yet. I wonder and pray for those water drops.
My wife and daughter were out shopping so I called to give them a heads up.

No answer.
We stood in Tim’s yard watching the smoke column move closer and counted the number of fire engines moving up Oak Hill Ln.to the top of the ridge -  9 total along with two dozers on flat bed trailers. By now the helicopters were at work dropping pond water far north of the ridge in the direction of the origin.

This ridge is important to us. It separates our little neighborhood from the state park from where the fire is advancing.
At around 2:30 PM I moved to my neighbor Tom’s home on higher ground to get a better look. When I arrived, he was sitting in a lounge chair watching the fire from his driveway; his son’s, are wetting their roof and grounds with garden hoses as we paw at our predicament. We discussed our prognostications based on what we see and know from experience. It looks very bad but too soon to bug out we conclude.

From here, the perspective was very different than from Tim’s and I started taking some crude photos with my iPhone from this place.  It appeared to me that the fire was moving more upward and up the canyon beyond our ridge. The fire crews were fighting hard and it looked to me that they were going to keep the fire from breeching the ridge.
I secretly question myself; am I in denial or just being overly optimistic?

I confirmed my thoughts with Tom and a few other few neighbors. It looked like this one was going to pass us by. Still, this belief was not shared by all. When I returned to Tim’s, neighbors from upper Oakhill Ln. were streaming down the hill telling us they were told to evacuate. Tim offered sanctuary for around 10 neighbor dogs and other livestock, goats mostly I think.
Some seemed a little panicked but not everyone. I sipped from a bottle of water while others sipped bottles of cold beer.

We continued to watch as the fire fighter’s air attack progressed. By now I had made contact with my wife. She was home and packing up. She told me a woman screamed to her from a passing car behind our house to evacuate. I told her to hold on that for now but leave the bags packed just in case.
At around 3:45 PM I was back at Tom’s house on higher ground. It looked much worse now, much much worse.
3:46 PM Flame advancing on the ridge

4:05 The  Fire at its Worst

About 1500 yards away, we could see the flames shooting up into the sky just beyond the ridge that protected us, a wall of smoke now obliterated our view of Mt. Diablo and snuffed out the sun. I hear this hissing sound and I turn to Tom and ask him, “Can you hear that? It that the fire?”  He nods his head grimly in agreement.

I began to pray a long series of “Our Father’s” for residents and the firefighters as I sat on my tractor bathed in the smoky orange light.

By around 4:00 PM, I was back at Tim’s.  Neighbors are now gathered in his front yard. I’m on the phone with my wife asking her to check the TV news for information. The answer - no channel is carrying anything about the fire, just the usual programing and the 49ers gallant fight with the Green Bay Packers.
Nothing about the gallant fight these fire fighters were in.  I tell her to wait and that it still looks to me like this fire is going to move on past us.

I shoot back over to Tom’s house. It’s now about 4:45PM. Clearly the fire has moved on south and our protective ridge no longer appears threatened. We can see the huge flames racing up the north peak of Mt. Diablo, up the canyon, and around the south side of the north peak. I can even see a little piece of blue sky where only one hour earlier it looked literally like hell on Earth.
4:45 PM The storm is passing

5:17 Helos at work

I return to Tim’s house at around 5:30 PM. The worst appeared behind us now; albeit, the fire is far from over. As for the firefighters, their work, though just beginning, was nothing short of heroic - they saved our little neighborhood of little ranches. We muse with friends that if this were just 30 years ago, we may have been wiped out. I am convinced that those air attacks save the ridge - and our homes.
Oddly enough, at this time when the danger to our home is clearly over, a young Sheriff’s deputy arrives, his spit shined boots now dusty from the day’s events.  He politely and pointedly tells us there has been a mandatory evacuation order issued for EVERYONE.  Attempting to explain to him that we are far from the top of Oak Hill Ln. and therefore are not in danger is completely futile. We all scatter but wer're not going to evacuate.  Leaving means we don’t get back to our homes until they say so. For me this is unacceptable and defies common sense. If the fire breeched that ridge, we were gone. But, the fire didn’t. The firefighters stopped it and the conflagration had move on.

I returned to Tom’s to tell him what I just heard. As I pull up, I see a yellow fire rig heading up the driveway onward up the hill. I asked where that rig was headed. Tom tells me that that is not fire truck. It’s someone who owns an old reconditioned fire truck and he is just driving around telling everyone to evacuate. We chuckle at the absurdity of the moment and discuss the Sheriff Deputies orders. Tom, like me, is a retired cop. We agree that it sounds like communications are delayed along the chain of command and that the Deputy is just acting on an older order or at least ones that have not been updated. Like most fast moving situations, actions often lag behind real time developments. We both agree we are not going to evacuate unless the situation changes.
I return home and find my family has a number of bags packed and stationed by the front door. I shower and settle in for the night, confident that the worst is behind us now.

My wife tells me stories of a number of different people who scream from vehicles behind our house telling her to evacuate.
As night falls Sheriff Patrols and fire rigs move up and down our rear driveway shining their spot lights in the  windows of our house and neighbor’s. I turn out lights and hunker down not wanting to get into a hassle with them over a forced evacuation that no longer has a point. This goes on all night long. At one point a fire rig with several spot lights dancing off the back of our house, stops near our rear gate to inspect our neighbor’s property. He moves on eventually. I think the fire rig was yellow.  

Eventually, we all drift off to sleep. But, by morning I decide to take a day off from work. Not knowing the state of the local constabularies’ orders, I figure it’s better to avoid getting locked out of my home than be forced into trying to reason with them.
The next morning, my daughter jokes that she felt like Anne Frank last night.

As I post this little memoir of sorts, the fire rages uncontained along the south side of the mountain. Air tankers and helos buzz over my home heading west toward the south side of the mountain.  
The local TV news is still reporting last night’s news.  The 49ers beat the Packers so I learned. I felt so relieved for that. I was able to catch a few short pieces of information from the Cal Fire press information officer that made some sense.

Cal Fire’s web site now says the road to our home is closed except for residents with ID. Unfortunately, all my ID has my PO Box address on it as we don’t have a mail box at our physical residence. I conclude my ID will be of no use as proof of residency.
Oh, well. Sooner or later everyone will figure it out.

And one more thing – God Bless those fire fighters. They did one hell of a job.


  1. Glad you are okay. Chris and I were wondering how close the fire came to your homes; also happy to hear that Tim's home is fine as well. Yes, God bless the firefighters!

  2. Thanks Janet. It was really tough for about 1 hour. It's all behind us now I think. The firefighters saved our homes. There is no doubt in my mind. And what a beautiful piece of work it was. Thanks for your comments. Blessings.

  3. Continued Our Father's for you and yours. stay safe.