By Brenda Norrell
CAMPO, California -- A drive to the border to take photos on Sunday afternoon quickly turned into a near disaster. In early afternoon, there was just a puff of white smoke in the distance at Tecate, on the California/Mexico border. In sight from Campo, it looked more like a cloud than smoke on the border. (see photo)
After turning around at the roadblock on Highway 94, I headed back to San Diego. With hurricane-force winds, from 70 to 90 mph on the canyon mountain tops, motorcyclists were hovering in the rest area off Interstate 8.
A semi-truck was pulled off to the side, with the top of its solid metal trailer cut off as if by a can opener from the wind. The truck's metal roof was flapping like a tarp.
The wind was so strong it was difficult to walk outside the car. Then, it seemed like all of San Diego was suddenly on fire, grass was smoking everywhere, flames and plumes of smoke seemed to be shooting out every mountaintop by dusk. At dusk, I made a run for it. Heading out on Interstate 8, near Viejas, a gust of wind picked up my car on a high bridge over a canyon and tossed it around like a toothpick. I pulled over shaking for a while, like other people were doing, then drove on out of there. Suddenly, there were fires everywhere and very few firetrucks were responding. High profile RVs and semi trucks were being halted because of the winds.
By the time I reached the safety of El Centro, huge homes in southern California were burning to embers on television. Now, with fires all over, from Malibu to the border, and one-quarter of a million people evacuated, everything seems to be burning. The Interstates north of San Diego are clogged with cars according to the radio, but cars can still go east on I-8. However, the winds are hurricane strength and light cars will be knocked around, with mountain-top gusts up to 90 mph. Some people just came in the coffeehouse where I'm writing this, fleeing the fire, searching for open highways for their family members to evacuate. The winds are changing quickly and people are having trouble finding safe routes out. The announcements can not keep up with the changing winds.
The grass and trees are parched from drought in San Diego County and the Santa Ana winds are fueling a disaster. In the middle of all this, came a radio report today that a herd of horses were stranded and people were thinking of riding them out of the city. In another report, horses waiting transportation out of the fires were eating the shrubs in town. The radio reporter joked something like, "Tell them to eat fast, less to burn."
Monday, 5 p.m.
Early Sunday afternoon, when there were only a few plumes of smoke that could be seen from near the California/Mexico border, it seemed that everyone was moving in slow motion. There were only a handful of fire trucks moving and a couple of ambulances, as sadly one man died in the fire near the border at Potrero.
There was an eerie stillness within the movement of people, even in the pace of emergency vehicles. Everyone that knew fires knew what was about to happen. With those hurricane-force winds and the parched grass and leaves, it was inevitable that all of San Diego County would soon be burning. With those conditions, there was little that could be done. At that time, just driving out through the winds on the canyon bridges, with gusts ranging from 70 to 100 mph, was terrifying.
Now, Tuesday night, nearly one million people have been evacuated and more than 1,000 homes burned.
CNN reported the winds peaked at 101 mph
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