Thursday, July 27, 2006
The Horse Fire in East San Diego County is 25 percent contained, and favorable weather may be helping fire fighters get the upper hand. Despite the progress, 1,800 homes remain under threat. As the blaze continues for a fifth day, it's starting to drain both fire fighters and local residents. KPBS Radio's Andrew Phelps has this report about the human toll on both sides of the fire line.
At the edge of the Horse fire, about a mile off of Japatul Road, fire fighter Lois Dolin is resting on a blackened tree stump. Her bright yellow uniform pops against a charred landscape, and she is drenched in sweat.
Dolin: "We worked all day yesterday and it was, what, 105 yesterday? Humidites were It was, it was really, really hard. I mean, tough on us. Then today, this morning, out here again, doing the same thing. We hiked up and over and down and up again. And it's hot. It's hot."
Dolin and her crew call the break "rehab," a chance to guzzle Gatorade and regroup. She is one of almost 1,700 people fighting the Horse fire. Although fire fighters are assigned 12 hour shifts, some are working for 24 hours straight. Dolin says she wishes she were so lucky.
Dolin: "Once we're out here, we'd rather just stay out here and work for 24 hours, and then when we have 24 hours off, we have a chance to really rest. When you have ---- you have to go into base camp, you have to get fuel, get supplies, then go back to the hotel, eat, by the time you get into bed it's 10 o'clock and then you're back up at 4 to get ready to be out at 4:30 or you know 5:30, 6 o'clock.
Despite the rigors of the job, Dolin and her partners say they survive on friendship. The same bond seems to unite strangers at the Red Cross evacuation center in Alpine.
Sally Bee Brown is in her 70s. She lost her husband two months ago. On Monday, she evacuated from her home.
Brown: "People seem to be quite brave about all this, taking it matter-of-factly at least outwardly one doesn't know what the inward feelings are but I know I have felt anxious I don't really want my house to burn up."
Brown has become friends with a 78 year old woman named Lucy Mullins, who faces a similarly scary future. Mullins recalled a recent conversation with her neighbor in Lake Moreno Village.
Mullins: "I had realized that my house is on the street that's next to the lake, and she said, Do you realize that your house is going up before mine? And I said, well, I knew that it was vulnerable."
Mullins could lose her cottage of 21 years. But she says she's prepared for that.
Mullins relies on camaraderie to get through the uncertainty ignited by fire. She has no problem connecting to others in the shelter.
Mullins: "I talk to everybody here. I've got a big mouth. I talk too much."
As the Horse Fire continues for a fifth day, fire fighters will keep working and homeowners will keep worrying. But no homes have been lost and it's possible none will be lost. Weather conditions in the East County have become more favorable and fire fighters are gaining an edge on the blaze.
For KPBS, I'm Andrew Phelps.