Grand Prix Fire

Saturday Evening, October 25, 2003

At 9 pm we took our normal evening drive to assess the fire before going to bed. During the day the new "Old Waterman" fire in San Bernardino to the east of us, whipped by Santa Ana winds, had destroyed hundreds of homes in one of the more destructive fires seen in Southern California recently.

The Grand Prix fire, which has destroyed about 30 homes, had moved west and we drove down the 210 freeway to Carnelian, about three miles west of us and then turned north. The fire was being driven by Santa Ana Winds and was quite spectacular. It was burning with even more intensity to the west. There was a lot of spectator traffic, people who had come out to view the fire, so we turned west on Lemon instead of going up to Banyan to get home -- thereby keeping out of the way of the firefighters and police. Looking up each north/south street we could see the fire diminishing as we drove home and concluded we were out of harms way.

We had made the same conclusion the previous night -- but after seeing how the Old Waterman fire entered neighbor hoods and destroyed homes by the block, we decided we were not as safe as we thought. As we found out, the fire had come down to the Deer Creek and Haven View Estates area north of us and the firefighters were fighting the fire from the back yards of the homes, barely stopping it. Otherwise we could of been in the same position as the Old Waterman homes that were destroyed.

Sunday Morning, October 26, 2003

About 3 am I was awakened by high Santa Ana winds. The wind gusts get under the cement roof tiles and lifts several of them, held together with hurricane clips, and slams them back down on the roof. The tiles are 1 x 2 feet and weigh 20 pounds each and the noise resulting from the slamming makes it difficult to sleep. I looked out the bedroom window and the Cypress tree towering over our two story house in the front yard was bending to the south about 90 degrees and then whipping back to the north at about 45 degrees. The tops of the Eucalyptus trees across the street, about four or five stories high, were swinging in a 100 foot arc. I used to have a good view of Cucamonga peak from my bed before some trees grew up and blocked the view. Now the winds were whipping the trees about in 45 degree arcs at different frequencies, opening up good views of the mountain and then closing them again. I sat lotus position on the bed for most of an hour and watched, through this opening-closing shutter of trees, the flames climb up Cucamonga peak toward the summit. The winds were strong enough to clear the smoke and you could see the stars -- the first time we had seen the sky in more than 36 hours.

At dawn I went out in the street and looked north. A string of fire engines and police cars were heading east on Banyan, away from the fire -- which seemed strange. A little later we got a call from my son-in-law a mile east that the fire was in their tract, a few homes away, and if he could come by and drop our daughter and grandson off. They arrived minutes later and he went back to get their cat and see if he could help any neighbors. (The traumatized cat was found inside the box springs in his bed.) All homes in the tract have tile roofs and sprinkler systems, so we thought the homes might be fairly safe.

What happened was that embers from the fire ignited shrubbery in the yards of three homes a few houses from them. They woke up and noticed that the smell of smoke had turned to the smell of fire and the smoke had turned black. Our son-in-law was up packing the car for evacuation when a neighbor came down the street knocking on all the doors warning them a fire was in the neighborhood. As they pulled out they threaded through three fire engines starting to battle the fire and police cars that were telling the residence to evacuate their homes. They were over to our house in less than five minutes.

We kept in touch by cell phone and when it was all clear, we took our daughter and grandson to breakfast and returned them home. On the way back we drove by the homes with the shrub fires and observed the burned out back yards. About eight of our daughter and son-in-law's friends lived in the mandatory evacuation areas west of us -- at the top of Carnelian, and in San Antonio heights. All their homes survived, but homes next to them or very near were lost. So far, no one we know directly has yet lost a home.

The Old Waterman fire and the Grand Prix fire have how joined and the fire line is over 40 miles long with no prediction of containment. The Santa Ana winds should be gone by Monday and the fires should be far more predictable and the water dropping planes should be more effective. Yesterday, it was too windy to fly and all the fire fighting was done by ground crews. Although windy, they are flying today, but the drops are not as effective in the wind, since water or fire retardant dissipates before it hits the ground.


Email: Jerrold Foutz,
Website: Switching-Mode Power Supply Design,
Original: October 26, 2003, revised November 12, 2003