THE DAY OF THE DEVILS
Rancho Santa Fe
Oct 23, 2007
45 houses burnt to the ground in Rancho Santa Fe, California’s most exclusive suburb, last night and this morning. The rich inhabitants escaped yesterday after a mandatory evacuation order.
My maids Ana Maria and Ana Luisa, who occupy servants’ quarters in Rancho Santa Fe, spent the night with three of their children in my guest bedrooms and downstairs. Their husbands had returned to Mexico to attend to extensive fire damage in Baja California.
California Highway Patrolmen came across an encampment of indocumentados running from the flames in McGonnigle Canyon, crossing an unfinished segment of CA Highway 56, according to radio reports. The group were camping in the billowing smoke on an unopened stretch of the highway. The Mexican workers told the CHP that they had become separated from a group three times their size, who were trying to simultaneously escape the conflagration and avoid detection. They had no idea what had happened to their compas. “It’s the Day of the Devils,” said one man in Spanish.
The biggest and most destructive of all the fires, the Witch Creek fire, after burning 600 homes in Rancho Bernardo, has ramped like a flaming caterpillar into this most exclusive area and is burning down the Del Dios Highway towards Via de la Valle and Del Mar, where some 5000 people spent the night under mandatory evacuation orders at the Del Mar Race Track.
My friend Bill Brooks’ 86-year-old mother was told by police to leave her Del Mar home and dutifully reported to the race track. She spent the night in the ash and respiratory danger zone instead of comfortably at home. But she has a very nice place to return to, which the nursing home and hospital patients, evacuated by the thousands, do not. Many sat out all night in the open under the smoke.
The works of man are resisted everywhere by Nature, and most of the destruction until now has taken place in new developments, in suburban cul-de-sacs, once chaparral which used to have natural yearly burn-offs. It is the equivalent of building in hurricane zones.
The flames continue to consume the lavish homes of the extremely rich and flush out the extremely poor who serve them from the ravines and arroyos in which they hide from la migra. “The flames are climbing over the ridges,” says a woman in Elfin Forest, an Encinitas suburb abutting Rancho. “We can see them on three sides. The poor Mexicans are walking along the roads. It’s like a war scene.”
The ashen air makes breathing difficult. The firestorm has a peculiar inevitability as it marches towards the west and the coastline, devouring fantastically expensive real estate, making the unthinkable come true. This has never happened before, not in the history of the state. Natives say it’s because of development, the cause of most ailments in the state. The average cost of the homes destroyed in Rancho Bernardo is over a million dollars,
and in Rancho Santa Fe many times that.
The malevolence of the fire makes one imagine purposeful violence against these places, and the helpless refugees evoke imagery familiar to all from war documentaries, but they’re not being shown on television, because these poor souls are not movie mavens or big shots or anything except desperate human beings with nowhere to go, fearful of the authorities who are helping the rich all around them.
FIRE UPDATE #1:
For those of you following Rebel Girl’s Santiago Fire evacuation saga, as of 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, she reports that, according to a neighbor who managed to get back in to Modjeska Canyon, her house is still standing, and the sprinklers she and her huz managed to get up on the structure’s roof, are still up there and sprinkling away.
Photo of the burning mountainside in Rancho Bernardo by Genero Molina/LA Times