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fire, evacuation, and return home [message #583660] Thu, 02 May 2013 14:47 Go to next message
Barbara Boehmer
Messages: 9097
Registered: November 2002
Location: California, USA
Senior Member
My neighborhood was on fire this morning, I evacuated with three cats, and have just returned home.

I was going through my usual morning routine, (don't remember what time), when I smelled smoke. I went outside and saw smoke everywhere, with billows of thick black smoke coming from the northeast. I started preparing to get out as fast as possible, taking things in order of priority. I saw some of my neighbors doing the same; Others weren't home. I put the only three indoor cats I have left in three carriers. I couldn't find either of the two apparent strays that I occasionally see. I had seen one of them earlier this morning and haven't seen the other in about a week. I made sure I had keys, driver's license, credit cards, cell phone, and so forth in my pockets and fanny pack. I stuck my thyroid medicine and the cats' medicines that don't have to be refrigerated in a bucket and put that in the car. I put some cans of cat food in the trunk of the car. I already had some bottled water and disposable dishes and things in the trunk of the car. I was wearing tank top, shorts, and sandals, so I put sweatshirt, sweatpants, socks, and tennis shoes in my car, in case I ended up still in the car with the cats tonight. I unlocked and opened all of the gates. As I was doing all of this, the smoke was getting thicker. It was already hard enough to breathe rushing around and the smoke made it worse. I could also hear sirens, so I knew the fire department was en route, but not there yet. I didn't know what or how much was on fire, just that it was close and apparently to the northeast. The wind was blowing strongly from northeast to southwest.

As I was loading cats and things into the car, the fire department, sheriff's department, and water department were driving slowly down the street, going house to house, and telling everybody to evacuate. When they got to me, I told them I was leaving with my three cats. They asked if I had any dogs in the yard and I told them no. Apparently, they were trying to make sure it was safe for them to enter the yard. They told me to leave the doors to the house unlocked. The smoke got suddenly blacker and thicker and looked like it was coming from the house two doors north. The firemen looked like they were discussing strategy and it sounded like they were planning to try to stop the fire between my house and the house to the south. There is a lack of vegetation from the north edge of my driveway to my neighbor's house to the south, with only dirt and a swimming pool in between. I heard them talking about my wood shake roof and it sounded like my house was probably a goner. With the smoke as thick as it was, it was obvious that I didn't have time to gather any more things and needed to leave right then. I was a bit concerned that I might have waited too long and that I might pass out from the smoke or there might not be enough oxygen to start the car.

I live on a north-south street and the smoke was coming from the north, so I drove south. I asked somebody from the water company at the corner, where I could evacuate to with three cats. They suggested that I temporarily go to the nearest shopping center to the southeast, so I did. I couldn't find any shade to park in there, so I continued further east to another shopping center. I parked in the shade and tried listening to the radio for news, but the news was dominated by the bigger fire in Camarillo, so there was no news about smaller local fires. Eventually, I went to a gas station and filled up the car, then went through a Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru and got some breakfast. I found a shady place to park, got some dishes, bottled water, and cat food out of the trunk, and put some in each carrier. I had disposable "wee-wee" pads in each carrier, and a box of them in the trunk, so I figured if they peed or pooped in the carriers, then I would just change the disposable pads. I also had some cardboard boxes and a jug of kitty litter that I could use as temporary litter box and allow them access to one at a time, but I was trying to avoid taking them out of the carriers, having them loose in the car, and risking them getting out of the car. Then the cats and I sat in the shade, with the air conditioner running and ate and drank and waited.

I finally heard a tidbit of local news on the radio and heard that a lot of brush and four houses had burnt so far in Jurupa Valley, and that the nearby Van Buren Elementary school and other places had been evacuated. After the cats and I were done eating, I tried to drive to where I could get a better view of the fire and circle around, so that I could get upwind from it. I drove northbound Van Buren Blvd and got stuck in a traffic jam that looked like it was everybody trying to get out of the neighborhood toward the 60 freeway. I finally got close enough to see where it all started. All of the dry brush northwest of Van Buren Blvd and Jurupa Rd was burnt, right up to the northwest corner where the Chevron gas station, El Colima restaurant, a dog and cat grooming place, and a laundromat are. There were fire engines, law enforcement, and animal control all over that area. The elementary school is just west of there on Jurupa Rd. There were a lot of road closures. I was eventually able to get north of the fire, then turn west, then come back south, go east, then south, east, then south, and back home. It looked like the fire was not out yet, but pretty much under control, and the areas of evacuation and road closures had shrunk. It looked like the fire burnt right up to the gas station and the fire department made a major stand there. If the gas station had caught fire, I think it would have been a lot worse.

I was really anxious to get back home because I was really uncomfortable with leaving all of the doors unlocked like the fire department told me to do. I was concerned that if the house didn't burn down that it might be looted by the time I got back. I think if I have to evacuate again, I may lock it anyhow, then I can feel comfortable about staying away longer. I brought the cats in and brought our medicines in, so they wouldn't be in the hot car, but left everything else ready to go, in case we have to leave again. The winds are still blowing like crazy and the air still stinks. I think I will be coughing for quite a while.

I turned on the television and started watching channel 5 news. Most of the news is about fires in Camarillo and Newbury Park, but there were some brief blurbs and pictures about the one in my area, which the news incorrectly referred to as Mira Loma. The fire and my house are both in the Pedley area, not the Mira Loma area to the west. Pedley and Mira Loma are both parts of the city of Jurupa Valley.

I have been concerned for a long time that something like this might happen. At least the house didn't burn down and I was able to return. The biggest problem is that there is no place to go temporarily with three cats. There is no evacuation center that allows cats, no hotel that allows three cats, or even any pet boarding place that will allow three elderly cats with health problems. Not even veterinary offices that treat those cats will board them temporarily. I like to be prepared for emergencies and have contingency plans, but I have realized for a long time that there just isn't any good plan available. The best I could come up with is to live in the car with the cats temporarily. I was trying to figure out how I was going to use a restroom somewhere without leaving the cats in a hot car on a hot day. The only thing I could think of was to leave them in the shadiest spot possible, with the windows rolled partly down, and dash in and out as quickly as possible. These are obviously only short-term plans. If the house doesn't burn down, then I can return. If the house does burn down, I might be able to return to the property and live in my car in my driveway, behind locked gates, and put the cats in what is left of the outdoor enclosure. My property is enclosed by block wall and iron fence and the kitty enclosure is constructed of chain link with a wire mesh top, with the house constituting one side. If the house burnt down, I could theoretically take the enclosure panels and construct a smaller enclosure. Eventually, I would have to buy a new house, but it would probably take a while to get the insurance money for this one and so forth. So, the biggest problem is where to go during that interim period. If hotels would just let people stay with three cats, it would make life so much simpler. Even those few that allow one cat require that it be certified as healthy by a veterinarian and that you not leave it alone in the room. I adopted my three cats as kittens in May of 1997, so they are just turning 16 now and have various health problems and require daily medications, as do I.

Jumper and Paws were pretty calm about the whole thing. Sweetheart was meowing endlessly in the car. All three seem to have calmed down and are napping in their usual places, looking happy to be home. I imagine they probably thought they were going to the veterinarian, since that is the only time they go in the carriers and in the car, so they are probably wondering what the car ride was all about. My neighbor's German Shepherd was still in the backyard to the north. She had dug a deep hole near the back (east) fence, like she was trying to get out and looked pretty upset, but seems to have settled down. I haven't seen the black cat that lives in the house to the south. When it gets smokey and there are sirens everywhere, some animals run and some animals hide.

The last I heard on the news, a cigarette is suspected of starting the fire and 15 acres, 2 homes, and other buildings burned, but "things are under control".


Re: fire, evacuation, and return home [message #583663 is a reply to message #583660] Thu, 02 May 2013 15:28 Go to previous messageGo to next message
Messages: 4963
Registered: February 2005
Location: East Coast USA
Senior Member
Sorry to hear this Barbara Sad
It makes me wonder which one of us is/was in the worse situation, or which of us I would rather be.
I am on Long Island and when Superstorm Sandy hit, I was without power for 11 days. If was end of October into early November, with temps going down at night to around 35-40 on some nights. I was able to stay in my home for about 5 days, but after that, it was too cold. Luckily I had other people to stay with different days.
Now I know, a camper would laugh at me and say 35 degree, indoors is the lap of luxury, but I don't live off the land and with 2 kids under 5 years old, that really isn't feasible.

The one thing I know is that my situation is over (not that it cannot happen again), so there is no "unknown" factor left.
Re: fire, evacuation, and return home [message #583670 is a reply to message #583660] Thu, 02 May 2013 18:14 Go to previous messageGo to next message
John Watson
Messages: 8935
Registered: January 2010
Location: Global Village
Senior Member
Wow! That was fantastic, Barbara - not what you went through, but as a piece of journalism.

As for the experience, yes, I have some idea of what it is like. A few years ago I lived in Glen Austin, a suburb in South Africa between Johannesburg and Pretoria. It is very rural: all the plots are at least one hectare (a hectare is 2.2 acres) and a lot of the plots are vacant. Vacant plots are just open veldt: grassland and trees. Vacant plots catch fire - often because the villains set them. I think the worst experience I had was when I wasn't there. I was working away from home when my cell phone rang in the middle of the night, and it was our neighbour asking "have you seen the fire in the plot next to you? It's coming our way". I had to reply "no I haven't seen it - I'm in Maputo". My wife and our gardener had to deal with it by themselves: trying to beat out the fires that jumped the fire break we had (such foresight!) cut in the vacant plot. We lost about twenty metres of privet hedge and a couple of small trees. All the other neighbours had to deal with the same problem, no one had any spare hands. You don't get a fire service to help. Sitting in a hotel hundreds of kilometers away, I was totally useless.

As for evacuating - well, we have more cats (and a dog) than you. I think I'll make an emergency plan. Such things don't happen to me now we're in England (actually, I'm in Boston right now) but I see nothing wrong with being prepared.

Your cats are lucky to have you.
Re: fire, evacuation, and return home [message #583790 is a reply to message #583670] Sat, 04 May 2013 02:54 Go to previous message
Messages: 21811
Registered: June 2005
Location: Croatia, Europe
Senior Member
Account Moderator
John Watson
Wow! That was fantastic, Barbara as a piece of journalism.

If you are interested in more reading, search Community Hangout for Barbara's messages; you'll find quite a few wonderful articles.

As of your (everyone's) horrible experience ... huh, what to say? I'm glad that everything went OK at the end of the story.
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