Monday, June 25 , 2018, 8:46 am | Overcast 63º


Local News

Report from the Front Lines, Day III

Routine errands mean sudden freedom, if only I'm allowed to get back home. Third in a series.

Favorable weather conditions meant a steady line of helicopters carrying water to Gap Fire hot spots. (Laura Hout photo)

It was a strange Fourth of July, watching fireworks on TV, hunkered down in the house with three sleeping dogs. I’m usually at the harbor on a boat with friends — but road closures and common sense kept me at home. Along with the firefighters, my heroes are the Edison crews. It’s really freaky to be without power in half-deserted neighborhoods. Scarier, lonelier, more dangerous it seems. We’ve lost power every night, and dinner, we’ve learned, must be cooked before power outages. I steam crab legs at 5 p.m., determined to enjoy our Fourth of July dinner, despite mordant last-supper thoughts in our newly remodeled kitchen. Then my husband, a first responder, goes to work. And though I’m a bit lonely, I have power, I have a house. Earlier, a neighbor reports fire jumped Old San Marcos Road. That’s why we saw engines racing up the hill. Thankfully, they put it out. Fireworks fill the big screen against the New York skyline, glittering like chandeliers set to classical music. I smile at my sleeping dogs. I’ve seen enough fireworks anyway.

In the morning helicopters thwock again — talk about air assaults. Is this what it’s like in a war zone? Constant noise, smoke and fear? Every night I fall into bed, exhausted from smoke and adrenaline. Every morning I take stock: House still standing, dogs happy, humans safe. Evacuated possessions will stay at a friend’s office for a few more days. No taking anything for granted right now. As of now, we are one street away from a mandatory evacuation order. The Subaru remains in go-mode.

Housebound for days, my plan is to drive out and restock. At the base of Old San Marcos Road, an officer says she’s not sure she can let me back in, but for now I’m good to go. Racing the clock, I get face masks from Direct Relief International, headlamps at Sports Authority, and goggles at Home Depot. A quick stop at Trader Joe’s — and, whew — I get back in. How ironic it’s a risk to get face masks and food! With these road closures we’re not even sure my husband can get home. He does. But by late afternoon the road is closed again. Even to residents.

Behind the closure I’m able to drive into the hills. I watch a DC-10 drop retardant — those birds look really huge when they fly that low. I speak with a firefighter who says today is our best chance for knocking this fire down as we have the most resources in place. We talk about how hard it is to get resources with so many fires burning statewide. Every night planes and helicopters fly back to their bases and get reassigned. We got lucky Friday, he says. We got extra air support because Big Sur was so fogged in that pilots couldn’t see to hit their targets.

As we talk a flare-up mushrooms near Painted Cave. The helicopters return in force. I ask if the burned-out zones will provide a protective barrier. Tenuous, the firefighter says. Tenuous at best. I think: It’s not over until the fat lady sings and she’s got a lot of hot breath. 8,300 acres and growing. The Painted Cave Fire was 4,000. And Painted Cave Fire survivors know this: It’s all about the wind.

Laura Hout is a Santa Barbara real estate agent. Click here to read her first report and click here to read her second.

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