We were watching the movie, "Message from the King," on Netflix around 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 5, 2020 when our friend Robert, a Greek Orthodox Priest, called to say there was a fire headed our way and we should get ready to evacuate. We went to the highest point on the property and saw a gigantic black cloud of smoke and flames that had not made it over the mountain. Luis took some quick photos with a "miracle” shot that he didn't look at until the next day. We left before the evacuation order was instituted. Luis and I packed our bags, two dogs, and two cars and went to the home of Wick and Robin in Dulzura about 35 minutes south of us. We spent Saturday night with them, even though there was no electricity in the whole area. We went to bed, but did not sleep, not knowing whether or not our home was still standing--a truly gut-wrenching experience I would not wish on anyone.
Luis left early Sunday morning with Robin and he talked his way into Lawson Valley and was allowed to get into our home for a short time. Yes, our home and grounds are still standing with no fire damage. We decided to go back to Lawson Valley Sunday evenings expecting to just enter. Cal Fire closed the road except for fire-related vehicles. We kept waiting and hoping. At 10:00 p.m. we left and spent the night in a “quaint” motel in El Cajon while the dogs had to sleep in one of our cars overnight. On Monday around 11:00 we went to visit Luis' brother Romulo who lives in an apartment complex in El Cajon that does not allow any animals. We had a great brunch with them, good conversation and lots of laughter.
We went back to Jamul to find a kennel to keep our dogs since we did not want them sleeping in the car overnight. A friend suggested that we contact the Red Cross operating out of the gym in the local high school. We did not know what to expect. We got there and Luis went into the gym. A while later he came out and said they can help us. A volunteer sat with us, we provided our ID’s, he asked some questions and filled out a required form. The upshot, they offered us a hotel room that would accept our dogs and have parking space for both of our cars. We were relieved. Next step was for us to wait and within a couple of hours we would get a phone call from another RC volunteer to provide the name and address of the hotel. We were chilling out as children played and conversations with their parents kept popping up. It was comforting.
While waiting in the shaded parking lot with a cool breeze we saw a couple walking, one carrying a camera and another a hand-held mike. They worked for Channel 10 News in San Diego and asked if they could interview us. So, Luis motioned to me to do the interview. I grabbed my mask, got out of the car and had a 10-minute interview. After this we got the phone call from the RC volunteer stating that they had a room for us at the La Quinta Hotel in Mission Beach where breakfast, lunch and dinner would be provided every day at no cost to us. Our room is a pretty good size for the four of us. Dinner last night was chicken strips, baked potatoes and broccoli from Denny's delivered to our hotel room.
Monday night we turned on the News on Channel 10 during the 6 p.m. broadcast. They posted my picture along with shots of other families who had been evacuated and were waiting for word about their lodging. During the 7 p.m. news they aired my entire interview, with some shots of Luis and I talking inside the car and Chicha and Azul our two dogs who are still trying to figure our what is going on. How come we can't just run wild? Why are we on a leash? How come we can’t be outside all day? Where are the hills and neighbors--horses, dogs, pigs, goats, squirrels, frogs, and the Bobcat?
This morning, Tuesday, the RC setup a food station in the hotel since more families were assigned late last night and this morning. At 8:30 a.m. we got a phone call to pick up breakfast. This morning we had an Egg MacMuffin, coffee, water and some treats. After breakfast we got a call from the RC and they said that as long as the closure of Lawson Valley continues we can stay in the hotel. What a relief. Tuesday night Channel 10 broadcasted additional shots of Luis and I together in the car.
Writing all this out is very helpful. My mind is full of new and mind-boggling experiences that I will never forget. So my dear friends and extraordinary poets this is my life "as is." We are indeed thankful, hopeful and pleased-- like "ducks out of water" but we just keep "quacking." My best to all of you and please stay safe.