Grand Prix Fire

Monday, October 27, 2003 -- Part II


Lookiloo, rubbernecker, looker-on, all appear to be a somewhat derogatory names for what otherwise might be called an observer, watcher, or spectator -- with lookiloo being perhaps the most derogatory. In southern california, it is always the lookiloos who clog freeways by slowing down to view accidents. No one likes them on the freeway. They also are disliked at fires. Fire fighters and police want them out of the way so they can work the fire with out interference -- no matter how well intentioned. Those that have lost their homes want be alone or share their grief with family or friends -- not lookiloos.

Only the professional lookiloos are tolerated. The TV crews and the newspaper and magazine reporters and photographers. They can even get into neighborhoods where the home owners are restricted. Our natural instinct is to know what is happening around us. Now days this is supposed to be satisfied by the professionals. It sometimes works, but other times, like during the massive wild fires we are experiencing, the professionals just wet the appetite for others to come and see for their self.

Today, I decided to be a lookiloo.

Our previous evening cruise around the neighborhood to assess what danger we might wake to in mid-night or morning could be justified as prudent behaviour. Also, what I could see from our windows or from the street in front of our house did not qualify for lookiloo status. I also rationalized that if I could walk to it from home -- like the block north to Banyan, I was not a lookiloo, even though I was joining genuine lookiloos who had traveled some distance to be in the same place. Even the professional lookiloos were on Banyan -- The Channel 4 News Van, complete with TV crew and satellite dishes. Still, in my mind, I was not a lookiloo, just a concerned neighbor.

Saturday morning, my wife had gone to the Walgreen's at Haven and the 210 freeway to get some items. A fire truck pulled in and the crew, in full gear and grimy from the fire line, had come in to buy cartons of soft drinks and a couple of paper backs. She got to talk to them and tell them how much we appreciated what they were doing. They expected a rough night. It was a night of heavy Santa Ana winds in the area and it turned out to be a hellish night. My wife was given the opportunity to express appreciation for what the fire fighters were doing. No lookiloo behaviour here.

But not today for me. I was out as a genuine lookiloo to see what harm the fire had caused in places I had seen mostly on TV.

As it was, I was not the only lookiloo, and they were prepared for us. Although I had a camera, the written word will have to paint a verbal image for some of what I experienced.

Rancho Cucamonga Banyan Fire Station No. 175

Banyan Fire Station
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

These guys are neighbors. Situated half way between us and our daughter/son-in-law's, they provide fire protection for both of our homes. They visit our grand-son's elementary school across the street from them for fire safety lectures, and we go to their yearly open house.

Callaway Fire and Cucamonga Peak
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

And they come to our fires. The house across the street caught fire a couple of years ago. Here is a view from our house of the response -- with Cucamonga Peak in the background.

Burning upstairs on Callaway
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

Fire fighters assess the situation as smoke comes from an upstairs window.

Suiting up with breathing apparatus.
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

Fire fighters suit up in breathing apparatus before entering the smoke-filled house.

Banyan Fire Station Paramedics
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

Back to the Grand Prix Fire. The paramedics return to the fire house and work on their rigs getting ready for the next call.

Fire house bays
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

The two large bays housing the fire trucks stand empty. The car pulled out as I took the picture.

Fire house and Compass Rose tract
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

They back fired the field between the Banyan Fire Station and Los Osos High School to the east. This is taken from the burned field looking NE showing the back yard of the fire house and the Compass Rose tract east of Chaffey College -- with the Deer Creek/Haven View Estates to the north.

Los Osos High School
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

Looking east from the Banyan Fire Station across the back-fired field to Los Osos High School. The fire strike teams, working 72 hour plus shifts, used the high school to get some sleep during a shift. Sometimes less than 2 1/2 hours before being called out again. Happiness is eight hours of sleep.

Compass Rose Tract
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

Looking east from Los Osos High School across a back-burned field to the Compass Rose Tract with the Chaffey College stadium lights in the background.

The pattern of tracts separated by open fields is common going east along Banyan. My lookiloo trip took me east out to Fontana, the starting point of the Grand Prix fire. Most of the fields between tracts had been burned by backfires and looked the same as the field between the Banyan Fire Station and Los Osos High School. I then doubled back on Banyan and went south on Rochester.

Rancho Cucamonga High School
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

The Rancho Cucamonga High School on Rochester just south of the 210 freeway was used as an evacuation center. The sun shows through the smoke, which was heavy on Monday due to the back side of Cucamonga Peak burning and smoke coming in from the fires to the north and east in Devore and Crestline.

I then took the 210 freeway east, got off in La Verne and went north to Baseline and then came back east towards Rancho Cucamonga. The fire stopped at La Verne when it hit the area burned in the Williams fire last year. I could see views of burnt out hills to the north, but could not tell if the damage was from the older Williams fire or the Grand Prix fire.

Williams Fire
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

This is a typical burned out area. I think this section was from the old Williams fire, but I could see smoke over to the left, so the Grand Prix fire was close. Several Helitankers flew a few hundred feet over my head as I was taking this picture but they were gone before I could get a picture. They did not seem to be fighting the fire in this area, but seemed to be on their way to another hot spot. Note the clear sky in La Verne. As a travelled east toward Rancho Cucamonga the sky grew hazy again with smoke.

In this area is the Webb School, a private residential four year college preparatory school. I could see burnt hills behind it so I turned into the drive. In a beautiful landscaped area of flowers, trees, and grass I saw a collection of fire engines in the drive with a few fire fighters crawling over them getting them ready for the next call. On the green grass were strewn a half dozen fire fighters in full gear, their bright yellow suits dulled by smokey grime. In a deep sleep in the warm sun, none of them stirred. I could see the picture in my mind. The exhausted fire fighters in the foreground on bright green grass, the red fire trucks in the mid area amongst healthy green trees and spanish stucco buildings, and the grey-black burnt out hill behind them. Emotionally, I stopped being a lookiloo. There was no way I was going to intrude on them to take a picture. This was real, not a Kodak picture opportunity.

I talked to the guard briefly. The Webb school has a tradition of serving as a break for fire fighters. A place they can rest away from noise and intruding lookiloos. The fire had come close to the Webb School, but they had lost only several fences and a shed. None of their buildings were damaged. Now it was peaceful. I entered the grounds, made a U-turn, and continued back towards home.

I jogged up from baseline to Hillside, the southern border of the first voluntary evacuation. I turned up several streets and stopped a block or two south of the police cars that were checking everyone entering the burned area. As I said before, they were prepared to keep lookiloos out of the fire areas. If you could not prove you were a residence, you were turned around. The first line of defense against looting -- which, sadly, is problem in some areas. I know the streets well enough so that I could probably get in by a back way, but all desire to be a lookiloo taking photos had gone. I had no business being there, so I was not going there.

Helitanker over Deer Creek
Photo by Jerrold Foutz

As I came back along Wilson to Deer Creek, another Helitanker came by on what appeared to be a route to hot spots along the urban/wild area boundary on the north Rancho Cucamonga city limits. The blue skies of La Verne had turned into the smokey haze of Rancho Cucamonga. A perfect match to my mood.


I used to be a professional lookiloo, first as a student taking photographs for the San Diego Community College newspaper, then as photo editor for the East Los Angeles Community College newspaper. I was an intern in the Los Angeles Times photo department, and then served four years as a photographer and photo instructor for the U.S. Air Force. Often I was the first on scene for plane crashes, car crashes, fires, suicides, murders, etc., taking pictures. I had the best professional equipment and would lie on my stomach, climb heights, and elbow my way through crowds to get the photograph. My Paparazzi instincts were well developed.

Now I have a beat up digital camera with a scratched lens that has been dropped so many times half the functions no longer work and I just point the camera from where I happen to be and shoot.

This fire aroused many emotions. Part of me wanted to again be on the front line getting the picture. Practically, I no longer had the credentials that would get me to the front line or the equipment that would get the picture no matter what the circumstances. I did what seemed to be the next best thing, becoming an amateur lookiloo. But I found out that emotionally it had no appeal. When I approach a check point, I want to get through it as part of a team doing a necessary, or at least desirable job. The prospect of being turned away as just another lookiloo holds no pleasure. If things come to me, I will lift the camera and shoot -- but this was my last lookiloo excursion.


Email: Jerrold Foutz,
Website: Switching-Mode Power Supply Design,
Original: October 28, 2003, revised November 12, 2003