Letter: Surviving California’s Fires


I live in a house that has a commanding view of a very large canyon in Southern California. Last Thursday night at 11:20 p.m., I received a mandatory evacuation order on my cell phone and on my TV. I could see the sky lit brightly to the east of the canyon, but I judged the fire to be approaching slowly enough that I had time to gather things. I turned on my sprinkler system and tried to give my property a good soaking so as to increase the chances of avoiding destruction.

It was a “hybrid bug out.” I didn’t have to run for the car or pickup in order to evacuate with only a bug out bag, and I didn’t have a day or more to load up a trailer. I used what time I had to gather personal items, such as photographs, mementos, and important documents. I tried to select items that could not be replaced, or which were not going to be covered by insurance.

I found myself suffering from “decisional fatigue,” that is, there were just so many choices to be made that I simply stopped making them. I realized later that I should have and could have taken many more items than I did.

The Santa Ana winds were howling and were driving cinders and embers everywhere. Gusts of up to 60 mph were reported by the media. I had the feeling that I was part of “The Last Days of Pompeii.”

Two fire engines arrived in front of my house. When the fire line was about 200 yards away, I asked a firemen if he thought they would be able to stop it. He said no. Too much wind. I pointed out the location of three swimming pools if they needed additional water, and then I slowly drove down the hill to rejoin my wife who was waiting for me in a supermarket parking lot. I told her that I expected that our house was gone.

Two hours later, figuring that the fire had done its worst to my street by then, I sneaked back into my neighborhood. My house was still standing as were all of the homes on my street. Flames had gotten to within 100 feet of where my driveway meets the street. Two homes on my hill were not so lucky, one of which had a “For Sale” sign in its yard. Fires burned the vegetation in the yards of other homes on the hill, but not the homes themselves.

My “hybrid evacuation” gave me time to go from room to room snapping multiple photographs of the contents of the room and the closet in each room so that I would have some record of the contents for insurance purposes. I should have done that in advance, of course, but never “got around to it.”

Upon reflection, I now see the need of preparing a list of personal items of no particular monetary value but which have personal value, e.g., photographs, family mementos, etc. While my wife and I grabbed a great many things before we left, after I returned home, I found myself asking, “Why didn’t I remember to take that?”

For the last several years, one of the things I have been very concerned about is the vulnerability of the country to an EMP attack. At some point in the last few days since the fire, it occurred to me that we would have been in a very different situation if firetrucks could not respond because an EMP had taken them out, say, a month before the fires began. While wind-driven fires are a huge threat in normal times in Southern California, they are a threat to large parts of the country, too.

I can only ask Survivalblog readers what they can expect if no firetrucks are coming, whether their home is located in a suburban subdivision, or on a mountaintop in Idaho and they are left to their own devices? It is an unsettling prospect. – Survivormann99


  1. Glad you and your wife are ok. GOD is good, all the time, and ALL the time, GOD is good. Good thoughts to think about. Most of america has not a thought on how fast devastation can come, or do they even think it will happen. COMPLACENCY and trust in the “government” and others will be their demise. GOD bless all you folks in CA. Keep your preparations going and mostly your FAITH!

  2. Scan all personal photographs onto thumb drives with a copy to the cloud. Does not resolve the EMP issue but does address the evacuation/destruction scenario. Then you can focus your evacuation packing on other items.

      1. Standard discs don’t have a very long shelf like. You shouldn’t expect them to last long term (more than 5 years). When I was doing a lot of commercial photography in the early days of digital, the best discs were a brand called MAM-A and you specifically wanted to use their gold discs. They aren’t cheap, but are still available.

  3. Good observations …as I reflect on the fires, it is becoming more clear that one has to develop a mindset of simplicity. You are dead on with decision fatigue. It is real and overwhelming. It can only be more minimized if you make a plan and also get rid of sh$t! The average American home has 300,000 items. There is no way to process what is important from what is not in an emergency. I am convinced there are dead that took too long to gather up stuff because they never thought it would happen to them. This highlites a deeper weakness,which is especially magnified by the Southern California mindset…YOU ARE NOT YOUR STUFF! SoCal worships image and stuff is proof of who you are. A “commanding” view of the canyon is realtor talk for…you need this house. The reality is you are willingly submitting your life and family lives to enjoy the vista/status. I know what that is like. I have owned similar properties in SoCal (one of which was destroyed by fire.). if that fire had started at night at the bottom of your view and if the wind was just right….we might have been reading about a survival family toasted. You mention the risk an EMP poses…friend a well placed magnitude 6 could easily impede fire crews. You have seen the landslides…that poses a much greater risk than an EMP! That is one reason I decided to leave good SoCal this past January. After twenty two years, the stakes became too high for me to effectively position my future. The cons outweighed the benefits.. I no longer feel the same level of sympathy because people choose to place themselves where the risk is high. When you ask them to prepare like you did, the response is “yeah I should” but the busy SoCal life soon takes over it’s hypnotic pace n life goes on.

    1. Amen Brother/Sister…

      The greatest form of safety is leaving Leftist run states. The more Leftist policies the more death/destruction will occur. We moved from SoCal during the Otrauma Administration and let’s sunder the results of the Leftist Loonies in California causing death/destruction.

      1) banning guns/magazines and training not allowing loaded guns in the car
      2) rebuking all those farms on the East side of Cali for using water for their fruit producing crops – to save polliwogs in state run reservoirs.
      3) Not cleaning up the forests of dead/rotted trees – due to GreenPeace and saving those worms/larva and other insects. That causes raging upon raging wildfires.
      4) to many CCRs in residential areas even banning fuel storage containers on your property even for lawnmowers. Stopping you from having chickens/ducks/goats/ small farm animals
      5) Allowing the Homeless to overrun major cities and poop/pee everywhere – drug users with needles everywhere and filthy unsanatized cities.
      6) Allowing Illegals to run rampant and in criminal gangs allowed to live off the free welfare state “for democratic voters” socialist tit.
      7) allowing women to sit home for six months after a baby, not producing anything for the bottomline but receiving her full salary, medical benefits, and retirement contributions, while the men work.
      8) Selling their sea ports (Long Beach is the largest) to the Chinese and other foreign countries having their own nationals on American soil running the ports and running havoc.
      9) Having checkpoints between states, harassing every American citizen in a Communist checkpoint in entering the state from another state, but have open boarders with Mexico.
      10) High property tax, high association dues, harassing law enforcement with exhorborant amounts of fines/fees and parking laws so ridiculous you don’t even go to a public venue anymore, overpopulation, rush hour traffic that is painstaking, every square inch of property/water is policed and harassment follows you continually to obey the shinny star on the law enforcers chest while disarming you, toll roads galore, and anti-Christian laws attacking family and constitution.

      Get out of SoCAL or fight against the State government to remove those Libtards! Libtards will always write laws away from God’s human freedom and those laws will keep you in bondage!

      God bless and glad you’re alive!

  4. Wow, that experience must have been terrifying. You were so fortunate to save your home.

    We keep “5-Minute Grab and Go Lists” to pre-prioritize key items and actions to save critical time. Normally just two of us live in our home. We have TWO ‘ lists (hidden of course) of items and their location. The lists have no overlap in locations for efficiency. My spouse grabs things at locations A and B. I grab things at locations C and D. This would save time by not having to decide what to take, determining its location or asking if it was already packed by the other. The lists also include actions, such as reminding us to shut off the water, propane, move gas cans, etc.

    Incidentally, the first items are securing our pets. They will likely get anxious in the inevitable commotion. The last thing you want is to be ready to leave and not be able to find Miss Kitty.

  5. Very good article. Comments very well taken….Here is my take on it.
    You are on your own. Plan for no help from anywhere but you and your family. Think thru each of these disasters and how you will respond… Flight or fight whatever presents itself as a danger to you and yours.
    Are you ready to fight fire? Have you cleared fire fuel from your structures? Can you pump water with the grid down. What are the triggers points that tell you to stop fighting and evacuate? Are you ready to treat casualties that will occur in this time? Have you sat and wargamed your plan with your family group? Does everybody understand what they are to do and not do?
    I truly believe that if you plan to do it all yourself as best you can with what you have then any help that arrives is icing on the cake.
    I believe if you start thinking and doing along these line then with the Lord’s guidance the outcome will be positive.
    God bless the US of America.
    Retired combat veteran/retired Florida Deputy Sheriff

  6. 100+ years ago, people very seldom depended on the government to bale them out, since the government was extremely small. People depended on themselves and their neighbor’s. It was a way of life. There was also not liberal policies in place preventing burns and other natural phenomena that made the inevitable big burn so devastating. And there wasn’t government agencies needing to brief water bombers before they were allowed to take off, allowing the burn to get started really good. Sure, there weren’t water bombers, since there weren’t airplanes. But there was also not govt red tape preventing people from preventing disasters. It bugs me how often people get in the mindset that if there is a problem, it’s the government’s job to fix it. This is true in so many areas of life: voter fraud, forest fires, prairie fires, etc. The government will not fix itself! We The People have to fix it before it is too late. The next generation will have to buy back their liberty with their blood if we don’t do while times are easy.

    1. Anonymous,
      Well said and Amen to your comments. Our culture , for the most part, seems to be a Godless, whining, snowflake, rely on the government culture. Sadly I do not see it improving in the foreseeable future. Our country seems to be slowly evolving into a communist state. This a time for prayer , asking for guidance, perception and wisdom as we move forward.

  7. You were prepared and you made every effort to save your property and because of your preparedness, your house survived.

    Wild fires scare me! I am surrounded by privately owned raw forest land. There are no fire trucks that could get here in time to save the house so prevention is on me. This year we began clearing the forest an additional 20′ back from our fenced compound. Much of it was small (25′) trees, but we also had ten 80′ and 100′ trees elevated so there are no branches closer than 20′ from the ground. Cutting down some trees provides more space between trees and it is easier to clear away underbrush. We also cut down small trees and severely trimmed over-grown shrubbery close to the house. Next year we will cut down and elevate more trees. This is slow hard work but it has to be done.

  8. I could only shake my head when I read some of the comments made above. They remind me of an old joke: A college fraternity kept copies of final exams given by various professors. One professor, it was discovered, always gave the same exam in his anatomy class: “Describe in detail the anatomy of a snake.”

    One student slept late and missed every class that semester. As the final exam approached, he studied the anatomy of a snake and nothing else. When the exam was handed out, to his horror, he found “Describe the anatomy of an elephant.”

    At first, he simply panicked, but then, as calmness returned, he picked up his pen and began to write. “An elephant is a large, gray mammal whose most distinguishing feature is its trunk. Its trunk, in many ways, resembles a snake. Now about a snake…”

    The point of my letter was about decisional fatigue regarding personal items. Yet some readers used it as a launching point to discuss everything about California that they hate. It was their “Now about a snake” moment. They know nothing about my particular circumstances other than that I live above a large canyon, and yet feel competent to offer me detailed advice.

    I need no one to tell me about the shortcomings of California. It is not the same state to which I moved a few decades ago. What was once “Reagan Country” is no more, and I am a frequent, vocal critic of how this state is managed, the liberal politics, and the insanity that residents have to endure.

    Yet, high paying jobs and family connections keep many people here. Some people are satisfied with moving and accepting modest incomes at their new destinations. They do not care, for example, whether their kids are burdened with student loans in getting through college because of their low income, and many other people have no family and friend connections that they care about anyway.

    I am not chained to California. I will move if my kids move. (And then there is the fact that the high temperature today will be in the mid-70s, as it usually is, and the nightly low will be in the low 50s for the next four months, a survival issue on its own.)

    Life is about choices. Choices have consequences. I was the last man off my street early last Friday, and if I had come to an ill end because I took so long to evacuate, I would not have blamed anyone for that. For the foreseeable future, I will likewise bear the risk of living in California with all of its warts, while keeping my options open.

    1. You know Brother if you established yourself somewhere else your children would more than likely follow you if their quality of life went up…By quality I don’t mean material wealth either…Just something to think about and if you ever wanted to meet for coffee to talk about it I’m down for it…

    2. SM99

      Nice post but it got to the point of my family using firearms on the California State government or move out. It’s soo bad in Cali that it’s dangerous to be under Communist reign when it comes to making decisions about survivalship. Come on. Not owning a defensable gun nor fuel storage and not letting you water your lawn or put out fires yourself? That’s not a wart but a receipe for death/ destruction of your family.

      We moved sometime ago and the grandkids and kids moved soon after and are much more financially prosperous for it.

      The jobs in Cali are not high paying. A doctor CPA or Attorney might have some wiggle room but IT nursing teaching construction management is the same anywhere. Like hotel rates. About $50 a night in Fargo North Dakota and about $100 a night in SoCal.

      At one time people moved to Cali to get rich but now they move out to get rich.

      Praying for you to leave the state to a better and safer for your family life.

    3. You know, I’ve noticed, like you have, that people here do not necessarily respond to the articles as written. I get the part about “now about a snake”. I’ve done it too, my bad. You made your point about decisional fatigue very well. You have time to react to your situation, but not a lot. You do what you can, then try to figure out what to do next. No matter what you try to get done there is always something you forget, then ask yourself “What was I thinking? Why did I do that?”.

      I’m thankful that you did not lose your home, or for that matter, your life.

      Now about California…..:-)

      I left there in ’73. I had to go someplace else to find a better paying job. I did, no regrets. You have to do what is right for you and your family. Don’t let anyone else tell you differently.

  9. Some 40 years ago I went through a similar thing. I didn’t have the time that you did with heavy thick black smoke billowing barely 20 feet above my home and embers flying past at 40 miles an hour. I got my two kids, some clothes and $200 I had in the top dresser drawer. Not a fire truck in sight. My next door neighbor was on his roof with a fire hose as I left. Met my wife in town and stayed at a friends apt. No room to sleep so the kids got the bed and the adults stayed up. The TV showed that the fire made it’s way past my home and with the winds dying down at 2 AM we loaded up to go see. The entire area was blocked off by police but knowing the area well I got past them. There were about 100 (yes literally 100) fire trucks in the general area with only small spot fires burning. My house and every house in our neighborhood was still standing thanks to a block wall surrounding the neighborhood, a complete lack of vegetation in the development and a lucky break with the wind. I can only assume that the fire trucks and men also arrived in time to be effective as well. 400 plus homes destroyed that night but not mine.
    500 plus firetrucks and their crews deployed that night but until the winds died down they could only mop up around the edges. IT IS THE WIND that is the problem. There are things you can do like have no plants /trees, the block wall was good, stucco exterior was good, but I am confident that even with all of this if the wind had not died down the entire sub division would have burned down.

    1. You bring up a point most often people miss… Subdivision living is more dangerous than living in the forest because you don’t have a buffer zone and you can’t clear one…

  10. SM 99

    Thanks for sharing your experience with this blog, i will not go into the details why we left and moved up to the redoubt but this is the greatest thing about living in this country, we still get to choose where we live! Just be a lite where your at.
    Our first summer here (in SW Idaho) we had a lighting strike fire start about 10 miles from our ranch, we were awaken by the smell of smoke and looking out the window to see a massive red/orange/purple glow in the distance, with being our first season at our property we were not entirely prepared for fire protection (shrub clearing etc..) so the only things we gathered up and put into the 4×4 was cash,guns,mre’s and water. While the wife was out with the garden hose and i on the tractor cutting fire lines there were only a few things going on in my mind, (1) Lord did you bring us here to burn it all down? and (2) there was not one thing i could think of that i would go back into the house for. At any rate by the time the fire was about a mile away the winds had calmed down and the local volunteer fireman had gotten it under control.
    For us this experience had opened our eyes as to what really matters, first we both realized God’s protection over us and second we were both willing to start over again if we had to.
    One last note My sister just made it out of her home in Paradise CA. with only her dog and cat and her 91 y.o. next door neighbor,she had sent me a picture of her home and i was amazed at how hot and through that fire was there was only ash left and a chimney! Blessings!!

  11. There are more secure areas to store things and how often did you go through those “old, precious photographs”. Or have them reduced to a USB stick or SD card and save the originals somewhere away from a disaster zone.

    You are right that you have decision fatigue, but that is why you need to initally have some boxes or other containers that serve. There may be a column A (TEOTWAWKI, so food, water), and a column B (irreplaceable things), but you need to think and sort first.

  12. We, too, had a fire, but no time for decisions. Sounds like you did a great job under the circumstances! I would add that most people will never need to respond to a global or national SHTF scenario, but many of us will have to deal with a personal emergency that requires many of the same preps. I had to leave my house FAST. The dumbest thing was my emergency back packs were just inside the front door — the way we left — waiting to be changed over from summer to winter. But because it was life or death, and we hadn’t practiced, I forgot them. They would have been nice that first night.

  13. Glad you made it out. Thanks for sharing your insights. This evening I saw a sad youtube posting by a man who tried to get a couple out of their house, but the wife needed “a few more minutes to put her make up on”. He was crying… because they didn’t make it out in time.
    My husband and I have everything for a 10-15 minute bug out positioned in 3 hall closets on the 1st floor. No holiday decorations shoved in closets for this lady, we have water containers and food pails. Blessings to you all.

  14. If you have the land for it something like this would come in handy
    I would be surprised if this 8×8 went for more than $15,000.
    Here is another that sold for $10,000 ,
    I was a FF for 33 years and always watch the online auctions. The gov paid a half a million for these trucks and that was 25 years ago. low mileage and always well maintained and parked indoors. My dept. had a tire fire with a million tires. Six standard engines couldn’t put a dent in it. After 4 hours we called the air guard and they foamed the whole pile. The fire was out in 20 minutes. I never could figure why someone in a high fire prone area would not have a metal or tile roof with sprinklers and sprinklers around the perimeter of their house and inside also, a swimming pool or large cistern and both an electric and gas fired pump . A single inground pool would have enough water for several houses as the fire moves through at quite a clip. Just my random thoughts. I hope this

Comments are closed.