Saturday, November 15, 2008


As I write, the Yorba Linda-Corona fire is burning a few miles to the east of me and the Brea fire is about three miles to the north. I didn’t see the signs of fire until about midday, when I noted a great brown and orange cloud to the east. I wondered how far away the fire was. It was obviously the kind of cloud that only a massive wildfire can produce. I’ve seen more than one of them in the years I have lived in Placentia.

At this time of year there are warm, dry winds that blow from the east, and much of the land is hard-packed and dry. What growth covers the hills is dry as well after a hot summer and before the rainy season begins. This part of California sees fires often in late autumn. Sometimes they are set, but a chance spark can also ignite them. I think this is the third season of firestorms in five years, but never have they been so close to me. It is the first time I have felt personally anxious about such a fire.

Within two hours of the time I first noted the cloud to the east, the entire sky was dark as dusk. Smoke filled the air and the only place I could see sky was far toward the western horizon. The sun was dull and surrounded by a red halo. Ash drifted downward like a light gray snowfall, and the smell of massive burning was overpowering. By late afternoon the wind died down and much of the smoke had dissipated, but now it is rising again. The winds are not expected to blow out until late tomorrow afternoon. A lot can happen in that time but most likely the church will be safe. Thousands of homes will have to burn before the church goes up, and that’s not likely to happen.

By early evening I had identified and called every member of the parish I could think of whose home might be in danger—about twenty families. I probably overlooked some since I’m not sure where their address is located. Fortunately nearly half of those I called reported that they were safe and not likely to be threatened. Four others were safe for the moment but one or other of the fires was near. There were eight who were either preparing to evacuate or whom I couldn’t reach. In two or three cases a recording picked up that said that “technical difficulties” prevented my call from going through. I suspect that some of those whose phones did not pick up had already left their homes, and it is probable that some will lose their homes to the wildfires. In fires like these, the heat is so intense that metal street signs melt.

Probably one or two families will be sleeping at the church tonight. There are other places they could go but they prefer the church. After I post this item I’ll go over to the church and see who’s there and if anyone needs anything. Tomorrow’s Masses are bound to be out of the ordinary. However, as always, I expect that Blessed Sacrament will be filled with loving people. Gotta go now.

Update, 2:00 p.m. on Monday, two days later:
I am astounded and grateful that of nearly two dozen families in the parish who were very close to the fire, many of whom had to evacuate, NOT ONE lost a home even though one home was right on the edge of the fire and another family's home was well within the red zone. The fire whipped through a canyon near their home but left it standing. They are already back in residence.

The Yorba Linda-Corona fire and the Brea fire did eventually meet to create one large swath of burning. A map of the fire's devastation as of midday Monday, November 17, can be found here. My home and the church are located a little bit above the "n" in Placentia.

Right now the skies are clear and blue, a light breeze is blowing, and it is pleasantly warm outside. It's a beautiful fall day in southern California. Though a couple of hundred homes, some schools and businesses have been lost, most of our community has been spared.


MichellefromNH said...

What an amazing description of what our whole nation and the world has been watching on television. It certainly brings the reality to heart more than any impartial newscast possibly could.

It renews ones faith in God to see the miracles that have occurred in your parish.

Now we await news of the one family you have yet to make contact with. Our prayers and thoughts are with them, and all of you who have been through what can only be described as a heart-wrenching and horrific
time of uncertainty.

Father David said...

Thanks, Michelle. I recently edited the post to show that the one family we hadn't heard from also turned out to be okay!