I had forgotten to turn up the volume on the scanner in my office, when Jack called me on my cell phone Wednesday just before noon. He was in Mountain Center seeing smoke.
JP was in Hemet on errands. Steven King also was off the Hill. Jenny Kirschner wasn’t responding to text messaging. Holly was here, grabbed the camera and headed out to Inspiration Point.
The scanner was now at full volume. A giant plume of smoke rose to the west of Idyllwild.
Within minutes, Halie and I were posting updates on the fire as we got them from the scanner, and Mandy left to go evacuate because her house is near Idyllwild Arts.
Lisa was in Hemet selling ads. We closed the office to business with just the two of us here.
All the local TC newspapers had been delivered to the Idyllwild Post Office. I took over labeling off-Hill papers from Halie so she could continue updates.
Highway 74 closed from Valle Vista to Mountain Center. The mountain in-roads suddenly all were shut down. JP and Lisa were trapped off the Hill.
Then the power went out. My last notes were: 800 acres, rapid rate of spread, potential for 1,500+ acres.
From then on, as in the other three wildfires involving evacuations I’ve lived through up here, time became a blur.
Without power, we could no longer post stories on our computers. Without ingress/egress off the Hill, we knew we could not mail the off-Hill newspapers. Knowing the potential for Idyllwild being evacuated, which happened later that day, Halie packed up her computer and the file server, then headed home through Mountain Center.
Together, Jack and I packed our two cars with all the other office computers and necessary files for staff .
He hooked up the trailer, and we put the off-Hill papers in there in case we could figure out how to mail them. We headed home where there was no power. With cellular data, Jack updated our website with information JP and Holly sent us through their cell phones.
He kept updating overnight as we spent a hot night at home with lamps on.
The next morning, he and I headed into Idyllwild to find a PIO, charging our phones in the car. Fire engines were everywhere — pumping gas at Chevron, taking up all the parking spaces at Idyllwild School, along the highway and Idyllwild Pines.
The “Charlie” section of the fire was going through a shift change and being briefed at the school. We headed to Mountain Center. Everywhere we looked, on both sides of the road, the fire had laid it to waste, smoke rising and stumps burning along the road. Guardrails and signs were destroyed.
We continued to Lake Hemet where the Sheriff’s Department had set up a resource center. So early into the fire camp set-up, no one could really tell us anything. Even at the fire camp, the PIO had little to tell. She handed out burritos from La Casita to firefighters. A parade of resources continued to arrive from north and south.
We went to our daughter’s house and had lunch. Then the evacuation order came for Pine Cove and north where we live. We headed toward home.
Then, things got really tough. Jack already had hooked up our little camper to one of our cars. We went inside, gathered our most treasured items.
Three trunks contained family photos and documents going all the way back to the 1800s. It was my idea to put them into these large trunks. But we had never lifted them.
The agony of hauling those to the little trailer with the Town Criers while dark smoke loomed above our home will haunt me for a while. Once we had loaded our most important items, we began the task of collecting our three cats — Moo Cow, Pretty Boy Floyd and Charcoal.
We managed to capture the first two but Charcoal, who was born feral, eluded us. He was nowhere to be found.
All the commotion apparently frightened him and he had discovered somewhere to hide. We had to give up.
I got into the car with the camper. Jack tried to lift the little trailer to hitch it to his car but he could not.
Suddenly, four vehicles raced up our driveway and cops jumped out. They were evacuating us. One guy, a big guy, agreed to help Jack. He lifted the trailer tongue with one hand, and we were out of there shortly.
The rest of the day was hot, long and arduous. Jenny took over updating on Facebook for the Town Crier as we all were evacuating. We managed to store the camper and trunks in Banning, but the Banning Post Office would not take the newspapers.
With both cars and a trailer in tow, along with two stressed cats, we made our way to Redlands to the San Bernardino Processing Center. No problem. In the heat, we unloaded the papers Thursday afternoon for mailing to our readers.
Then, the task of finding a place to stay with our two pets. Places were booked all over with evacuees. We found one left at a hotel in Redlands where my daughter’s in-laws also were staying with their pet.
Walmart stocked us with necessities for the two cats.
In all of this, one of us always had to remain in the car with the cats and A/C because of the heat.
Once they were ensconsced in this giant suite, we were able to relax a bit.
Then, my daughter and her family were evacuated with nowhere to go. Then our suite because filled with the joy of grandchildren at about 11 p.m.
We left at about noon to head to Indio where friends offered their place, my daughter and family doing the same in Hemet.
In Yucaipa, we stopped for fast food. The line was too long. I left Jack in his car with the cats and went in to buy food. No line. I returned in 105-degree heat to find that his car had died. AAA reported more than an hour for aid.
We moved the cats to my car. Ten minutes later, they began acting strange. The A/C was not doing well in idle. I searched for a kennel or somewhere I could get them to safety. Yucaipa Animal Hospital was 1 mile away. I headed there, getting immediate assistance from their kind staff.
It was cool inside the waiting room. A nice lady with a mixed dog heard my story and offered her home to us. But we knew we would be able to get through with press I.D.s to our home that no longer was in danger and where power was restored.
The vet came out and said the cats’ temperatures were elevated but they were fine otherwise. They appeared to be under great stress.
By then, Jack’s car problem was fixed and we headed home.
With my computer in the house and JP attending fire briefings now, I was able to update the fire situation from home.
When we had left, I resigned that all the stuff and the house didn’t matter anymore — just Charcoal, the cat with the ironic little name for this occasion and whom we also call Knucklehead and Squeaky because, even those he’s a bit of a bruiser, he has a tiny, high-pitched voice.
We discovered Charcoal’s hiding place in the loft but could not get him out as he was tucked away behind heavy boxes. We called, we opened a can of wet food, we tried to be nice. We figured he would never trust us again.
Within five minutes of Jack turning on the TV, we heard him jump out of the loft. The three cats sniffed each other over, and life returned to normal for them.
Becky Clark, Editor