My husband and I spend two weeks in Carlsbad, CA every Fall. This year our weeks coincided with the worst fire disaster in California history. We observed the early stages of the Witch Creek fire from the air as we approached San Diego Airport on Sunday morning. Ironically, our rental car was upgraded to a convertible. Little did we know that the air would be too full of ash to even put the top down. The sky was blue over San Diego and held the promise of a beautiful day as we headed north on the I-5 toward Carlsbad. We were alarmed as we encountered heavy smoke but it cleared and the sky was once again blue as we arrived.
Monday morning the sky over Carlsbad remained blue, a small isolated, clear patch between the fires to the north and south of us. As we scanned the sky over the Pacific, a growing wall of gray-brown smoke formed to the south. We watched as birds flew in that direction, wondering if they would turn back as they approached the smoke. There was no hesitation on their part; they simply flew straight into the smoke and disappeared. By evening. the smoke from the fires connected somewhere over the Pacific, forming a dark, continuous layer between the ocean and the clear sky above.
Tuesday morning the patch of blue sky over Carlsbad had disappeared, replaced by the pale haze of smoke from the surrounding fires. By the end of this day there would be a mandatory evacuation notice for parts of Carlsbad, starting a mere three miles to the south of us. Everything had a fine layer of soot on it and many people wore face masks to filter the air they were breathing. The ocean front sidewalks usually so full of dog walkers, joggers, strollers and surfers was eerily empty. Hastily printed signs appeared on the doors of small shops saying, "Closed due to the fire. We will reopen tomorrow. Stay safe."
Our resort was booked to capacity, as were all other resorts, motels and hotels in the area. I met a woman who had spent the night in her car in the parking garage. I offered to share our condo with her (we have a sofa bed for guests) and a place to freshen up. She was on her way to check on some 35 animals she had removed from her kennels in the fire zone to a safe area further north in Oceanside. I waited all that day, hoping to hear from her. Then just as we were leaving for dinner, there she was, checking in! They had a room for her and all was well for another day. I haven't heard from her since and can only pray that her property was one that was spared.
The fires continue and containment, meaning only that the fire has been surrounded, not extinguished, is not expected until November in some cases. The citizens of this area have been remarkable for their calm acceptance of what had to be done and what remains to be done. It is humbling to be a guest in this city where so many are suffering. We feel guilty that we have chosen these weeks to be carefree while so many around us wait to see whether they will even have a home. Everyone has been touched by this firestorm and we can only stand in awe of the strength, generosity and hope of the people of San Diego county.