Friday, May 21, 2010
It was late October 2003. Sunny. Just like you would expect in San Diego. And hot. Santa Ana winds had been blowing all weekend. My coffee cup was empty when the KPBS Newsroom called. Come on in. There is a wildfire near Ramona.
No need to panic. I knew wildfires here were pretty common but they were usually more about smoke than actual flame. Get to Ramona, I thought, talk to people forced out of their homes, file my story and go home. Not this time. I was stopped where interstate 15 and state route 163 come together. A solid wall of smoke and flame swept over the 12 lanes of concrete freeway. Police ordered cars to turn around. The small wildfire that started in Ramona had already swept through Scripps Ranch. I talked to a lot of those homeowners later in the day at an evacuation center in Mira Mesa. They were worried, polite and starved for information.
In the coming week, I would walk through their scorched Scripps Ranch neighborhood, talk with firefighters battling the flames near Julian, and spend time with more fire refugees at an Imperial Valley school. The whole time I felt like the smoke had wrapped San Diego a hazy yellow blanket.
Our small reporting staff did its best, but we all knew there was more to be done. We learned and adjusted. Just four years later, KPBS covered the 2007 wildfires around the clock for more than a week. When our transmitter was lost to the flames on Mount San Miquel, 94.9 gave us their signal so we could continue to serve the San Diego community. The flames left their mark on San Diego and on KPBS. I think we’ll be ready again if the need arises.