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Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
California fires: Readers' experiences
Photo: Chris Johnson and Dale Franks

Thousands of evacuees have returned to parts of California devastated by wildfires.

About 1,600 homes have been destroyed and one million people were forced to leave their homes. At least 10 people died.

Readers from the area have been describing their experiences and sending their pictures of the devastation caused by the blazes.

STEVE AND CONNIE CROSS, SCRIPPS RANCH, SAN DIEGO

We live on the eastern edge of Scripps Ranch - five miles south of Poway.

Our home was destroyed along with 3,500 homes in the Cedar fire four years ago this week.

At that time, we had only moments to escape as the 100 ft. flames swept over the hill behind our home.

This time the fire emergency response and relief effort was far more organized and supported than the Cedar fire.

Monetarily, it took two years two years to recover. Emotionally, we are changed forever.

As we recovered from the loss we took steps to minimize a recurrence. Still, when the Witch fire raged and despite all the precautions, we were forced to flee.

By the grace of God the wind shifted toward the north west and our home was spared.

CATHERINE MOPAS, LOS ANGELES

The fires, though several miles west of my workplace and home, have been affecting me and those that I know in a variety of ways.

The sky is gray with smoke and ash, the sun is orange/red during the day and the moon also.

The air carries ashes and pollen that settle onto our vehicle and get inhaled.

My nose has been a bit bloody because of this and my fiance's allergies to the plant matter is affecting his sight and quality of life.

SHIENNA, SAN DIEGO

The fires have affected everyone in Southern California.

I live in San Diego and my family lives in different parts of San Diego County and all of us were prepared to evacuate.

My partner and I had to evacuate. Thankfully our home is fine.

The fires have been devastating and yet have illustrated that San Diegans care about each other through generous donations and volunteerism.

The disaster has brought people together regardless of creed, race, or religious affiliation.

NANCY GAYHART, CANYON COUNTRY

My family almost lost their home to the "Buckweed" fire that swept through Canyon Country on Sunday evening.

We watched the smoke all day and as it grew worse, we packed the important things - papers, photos, medicines - into boxes.

At 5pm, we decided that it time to leave so we began to pack up the cars. Around 6pm, the flames breached the top of hill outside our home and swept down towards our housing development.

This happened so fast that authorities did not have time to evacuate the area.

We ran door to door alerting our neighbours so they could leave. We took an elderly neighbour and her dog with us.

The embers were showering down upon us when we finally left our neighbourhood.

Most people left with nothing because there was no warning. Unfortunately, two families we know lost their homes.

BELLA, TEMECULA

When the fires started, I was on the freeway just north of San Diego and we were all re-routed.

Having no other road to take home but the one blocked by a thick wall of black smoke and flames, all I could do was wait for hours in a car park with a number of other frustrated souls.

Sadly, the fire turned on us and what was an inconvenience turned into an emergency evacuation with California Highway Patrol and fire personnel rushing everyone back onto the Southbound freeway as the wall of black smoke we had seen in the distance was suddenly heading straight for us.

It was as close as I got to being in danger, and the swift reactions of the ever-vigilant emergency services kept us all safe.

Now our community is a haven for evacuees, even as the hills around our city are thick with smoke and the air is gritty and filthy. It's not home, by any means, but it's all we have to offer.

All things considered, I consider myself very fortunate indeed

LIZ BISSELL, TUSTIN RANCH, ORANGE COUNTY

We had a surreal night as we watched angry, powerful flames leaping over a canyon near our home.

After being ordered to leave our home, we packed what we thought we would need. It was all very weird.

The kids packed their most treasured items and we headed out with all the other residents to the busy road.

We headed north toward Anaheim and checked in to a hotel.

I have never experienced anything like this.

KERRIE ST JOHN, IRVINE

The firemen here have done a tremendous job and the fire is almost controlled.

The winds have dropped at last, the smoke isn't as heavy and no flames can be seen above the hills.

Some homes have been lost but no lives in this area.

I am angry. To see our area blackened where only days ago it was a beautiful lush green breaks my heart.

Many of our lives will never be the same.

JENNIFER, EAST SAN DIEGO COUNTY

This inferno is truly as frightening as it is being reported.

Thankfully, we have been kept well informed and the disaster response has been very well organised.

Citizens not directly affected by the evacuations have literally overwhelmed disaster shelters with donations for fire victims.

At one point I believe that there were more people signing up to volunteer at the Qualcom Stadium shelter than there were victims.

San Diegans have truly been blessed to have such a wonderful, caring, neighbour-helping-neighbour response during such a tragic time.

Also, I must thank all of the brave firefighters saving lives and property during this unprecedented disaster. God bless them all.

AARON PARKER, SAN DIEGO

I flew home to San Diego on Sunday night and we passed over the massive Witch fire.

It was very eerie - you could see massive flames out of both sides of the aircraft. The smoke had an orange glow and the fire lines were clearly visible.

We could tell it was windy because the flames would grow another 10 or 20 feet with each gust. It was like flying over an active volcano at times.

The flight was very turbulent and bumpy due to the combination of wind, smoke, and unpredictable heat from the flames.

Most of the city is now shut down and I'm not expected back at work until Thursday or next Monday.

The air is much cleaner now than it was on Monday. The city and government seem well prepared and coordinated. My grandparents were evacuated without a problem. Hopefully things will return to normal soon.

SHAWN FREEMAN, SAN DIEGO

I woke up at 0300 on Tuesday, walked out to the front yard and saw an entire mountain on fire.

You can see the eastern mountains from my street. Any other day it's a beautiful sight.

This morning I saw an inferno, it was terrifying.

TERRY KELSEY, SPRING VALLEY, SAN DIEGO COUNTY

I had assumed our community was safe from the fires.

People in our house had been up all night, keeping track of the fire coverage.

I was awakened at 0300, and could see a great glow of the fire, over the hill, from my front yard.

We haven't been told to leave yet, but many have been leaving. We can only pray for the winds to die down.

MICHAEL RIVERA, SAN DIEGO

San Diego is one big nightmare. Almost all of the freeways leaving the city are closed.

Schools have suspended classes and almost a quarter of a million people have left their homes to various places around the county.

The fire has left a hellish atmosphere of smoke, ash, and poisonous toxins hanging over the city.

This fire is worse than the fires of the past, and the worst part of all of this, besides the fact that so many people have lost property, is that there is no end in sight.

CHARLES FINN, OCEANSIDE, SAN DIEGO COUNTY

The fires in north San Diego County have been devastating.

The entire city of Fallbrook, population 40,000, has been evacuated.

News coverage has been sporadic, but it is believed that hundreds of homes there have been destroyed.

More than 250,000 people in the county are under evacuation orders.

The air is so thick with smoke that breathing has become painful.

Many of us are afraid to go to bed tonight, fearing that the fires will spread our way during the night.

Latest reports show a few more injuries, but fortunately no additional fatalities. Donations are pouring into shelters from all over the community.

ADAM, SAN DIEGO

My home is on the verge of being evacuated and right now it seems like there is nowhere to run.

The Santa Ana winds are spreading the fire west to the coast and there is ash falling from the sky.

The air is heavy and clogging my lungs when I breathe.

Really the only option is to head South towards the border.

Having lived in the UK, I'm just praying we get a bit of British weather in the next few hours.

As the front of one of the local newspapers said today, "it's in God's hands now".

MARY BUCARO, RAMONA

I was evacuated from Ramona to the city of Santee. The entire town of Ramona is closed due to the fires.

However, I have now been told to be ready to leave Santee if need be.

The problem is the extreme Santa Ana winds which are typical of this time of year.

The fires are usually caused by arson, sparks from machinery and downed power lines from the wind.

These winds blow up to 70mph with less than 10% humidity. Air tankers and choppers can't fly, plus resources and manpower are stretched due to many fires burning at once.

MICHELLE F, SANTEE, EAST SAN DIEGO COUNTY

This is all eerily familiar. All of us are hoping that the loss of life and property will not be as devastating as the last time, only four years ago.

We have been told not to go to work if we don't need to.

Freeways and roads near the fires need to be open to emergency vehicles and evacuees.

The authorities are not taking any chances on evacuating people and their pets.

We are better prepared for this fire but you can never be ready for the dangerous whims of Mother Nature.

With eight fires blazing, very little containment and 75mph gusts this will not stop for days.

By tomorrow morning, the entire county from Orange to the north towards Mexico to the south, the fires on the east and the ocean on the west, will be covered in an uncomfortable blanket of ash.

You can only be prepared to leave your home and all belongings in the hands of some very courageous firefighters that put their lives on the line so others may keep theirs.

RUSS, RANCHO BERNARDO, NORTH OF SAN DIEGO

At 0530 this morning I was evacuated from Rancho Bernardo.

All day on Sunday the smoke thickened and when I awoke this morning it was almost palpable.

As I walked to my car there was a sustained wind of about 30mph blowing into my face from the east carrying soot and heat from the inferno.

Because of the gusting winds local fire crews can't carry out air drops and these winds are set to continue until at least Wednesday - at the moment there is less than 5% containment.

I was here in October 2003 for the much talked-about Cedar fire which only had sustained winds for a few hours.

Because of the sustained gusting winds, low humidity and virtually zero containment this fire has terrifying potential.

TRU TALBOTT, CANYON COUNTRY, NEAR LOS ANGELES

We live in Canyon Country, where the big fire is spread over 12,000 acres and still burning.

It came less than half a mile from our house last night, then the winds shifted and we were spared.

The Santa Ana winds will continue for another few days.

It's a horrible sound, it really howls and moans. I've got dirt on my face and in my hair from the dirt it blows up.

It tore down an old horse shelter nearby yesterday before the fire arrived.

It's still out of control at this time - only 10% contained.

CLINTON, SAN DIEGO

It feels like an emergency here.

There is a smoky haze over the whole city, and it is difficult to see the sun, which is a rare thing in San Diego.

Walking only a quarter mile from my car this morning, I soon found it difficult to breathe.

You can taste the ash in the air immediately.

The traffic is terrible and people are pretty worried.

TOM FLANNAGAN, SAN DIEGO

The sky is a combination grey and orange, as the sun filters through the smoke.

The fire is penetrating many canyons and making strong inroads directly into the city of San Diego from the outlying areas.

A major area of the north county of San Diego has been evacuated, with thousands heading to the main sports stadium in the middle of town.

Main freeways are closed. It smells like a campfire everywhere, and many, many homes have been lost.


Have you been affected by the fires? Were you evacuated? Are you planning to return home? Send us your comments using the form below.

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