We were in Escondido at Harbor Tools when it started. On the way home we saw the stack of smoke.

Diane "Where do you think that is?"
Soc "Oceanside, maybe"
Diane "Um, it kind of looks like where we live"
Soc "You always say that"

So we keep driving and the smoke refuses to move reassuringly to the side of the road. It keeps triangulating towards our home ahead of us.

Diane "Did I leave the iron on?"
Soc "You usually do."

As we get off the freeway there's a line of cars leaving Fallbrook. Just like always, only now against a backdrop of green gray smoke it has the feeling of an evacuation. He's driving; I'm straining to see where the smoke is coming from. There's a pretty valley between the freeway and town where gentleman farmers grow macadamia trees. A black line of smoke is lifting off the valley floor resting on jagged orange flames. Shit. There are a lot of houses down there. I can't see through the smoke to the hills on the other side of the valley where our dogs are waiting inside the house. We pull over for a fire truck, and then another. I start a silent prayer "let-em-be-ok letem-be-ok letembeok letembeok"

People have parked their cars by the side of the road and stand staring at the burning valley. The other drivers seem stunned, meandering slowly, craning their necks. I know Soc can't make them go faster. In my head "hurryhurryhurry" pounds a backbeat to "letembeok". The wind is whipping the Sale Banner on the Whirlpool Dealership, the flags at the Harley Davidson shop snap. Pedestrians keep wandering into the street. I notice with surprise that there's not much smoke.

Finally we turn up De Luz to make the winding 5-mile drive to our place. There is not a single fire truck to be seen, but just beyond the apartment buildings that mark the end of town, the hills fade into a blue slate haze. We're following a red pickup truck. "What do you want to do?" Soc asks, bringing me into his decision. I picture our dogs faces at the bedroom window, and know Soc is doing the same. "Get home," I say, "Hurry." We make the first turn. My mind flashes on the signs on the Oklahoma turnpike, "Do Not Drive Into Smoke" they warn. We used to joke "Do not drive into tractor-trailers" "Do not drive into cows". The red truck has slowed to a crawl. Slowly, we drive into smoke. The red truck stops. "Don't Stop!" Soc says to the windshield. He is grim and very calm. The wind moves the smoke and we see why the red truck is hesitating. The trees on the right of the road have turned into candles. Fire is burning clumps of grass on the slope. The house there, that raises miniature horses, is on fire. "Go around!" I hear my own voice. In the side mirror I see the red pickup truck trying to make a U turn. Fire is everywhere - above us in the trees, on the slope, coming up the valley. "Hurry hurry hurry, make it to the creek" I say. "I'm doing the best I can," Soc says gently. His focus is amazing. I realize that if anyone can get us through this, he can.

The car window is too hot to touch. I suddenly remember that I lost the gas cap to the truck last week. This is not the time to tell Soc. "What are you saying?" he asks. our-father-who-art-in-heaven-hallowed-be-thy-name... I realize I am praying out loud. And suddenly we're out of it. The sky is impossibly blue. The sycamores in Sandia Creek are bending in the wind. Three or four cars are parked and a small crowd of people is looking at the fire. Later that night Soc & I will go back up to town and the sycamores will be charcoal stumps - glowing like an apocalyptic Disneyland ride.

We drive another mile and there's another fire - grass mostly, no trees here. A bit further on an avocado grove is on fire. Orange red flames fill the spaces between the trunks. I lean away from the fire, as if that will help. We're coming to a turn where you can see our house up on the hill - and there it is. Behind us, ahead of us and to the left are walls of smoke and fire, but in the middle there is our house and the wind and the fire are blowing away from it.

We leave the bottom gate unlocked. Half way up the hill we see another fire in the distance, unconnected to the 2 we have driven through. With horror we realize that someone might be setting these intentionally. I say "we ought to close the gate" but we need to see the dogs first. Julie, our neighbor, is at the house, letting the dogs out when we get there. "We were worried you wouldn't be able to get back," she says. We tell Julie we left the gate open, but are wondering now if there is an arsonist around. She & I drive down together to lock up. On the way down she tells me that she and Len have been watching the fires and the wind and believe we'll be ok unless the wind changes direction dramatically. The wind is amazing, gusts of 100mph we later hear. Classic Santa Anas blowing the fire toward the coast.

Len & Julie have been up here 25 years. They're the kind of people we feel lucky to know - solid, self-sufficient and reliable. When Julie & I get back to the house, Soc is up talking with Len. After a while Soc comes down, calmer. There's no electricity, but surprisingly the phones still work. We make a couple phone calls and line up a place if we need to evacuate, then we go out on the bluff and watch the fire jump over the hills towards us. Just below our place, towards Fallbrook, is a little valley with a dozen or so farms. We agree on an imaginary line that runs through these homes. "If the fire gets to 'there' we'll leave". Our voices are hollow. There's a giddiness in my lungs that almost feels like laughter. I edge away from the feeling like it was a cliff. We load a change of clothes, computers, a chest with our photographs. Dog leashes are set on the kitchen counter. About twice an hour the fire comes up over a new crest, and flames shoot several hundred feet into the sky. The smoke changes, orangey and black and then sickening green.

After a while we go up to Len and Julies place, which is higher. Unexpectedly the higher perspective is less frightening. We can see hills between the fire and us that aren't apparent from our place. We watch as official vehicles travel up the driveways of the farms below evacuating people. Julie points out the furthest house - "He's got a stand of Eucalyptus too close to his house," she worries. Sure enough the trees catch fire. Suddenly a helicopter flies in. A red bag is swinging below it. It pours water on the burning trees. The fire seems utterly unaffected. "Like spitting on a bonfire" Len says.

Another helicopter moves in. Hanging from the bottom of the helicopter is a tube that looks like a flattened bit of medical shunt. It's way too high to do any good when it lets go a spray. In seconds though, the flame is gone. We decide it must be using fire retardant. Then the flame is back again, and now it seems to be surrounding the house. The water copter is back, this time he goes in low. Too low! He's in the flames themselves and he's hovering and going backwards a bit. He dumps gallons of water on the house - but something is wrong. The front of the copter goes straight up, the tail is pointing down and he stalls. For a second no one on our rock breathes. Somehow he gets control again and zooms off. On his tail is a large red helicopter with what looks like two giant Tupperware containers full of water. One after another the helicopters focus on the fire surrounding the farmhouse. Two days ago we didn't know it was there, it was so hidden by trees. Today, it is the only thing on the hill.

But the helicopters don't fly after it gets dark. At dusk I come back down and gather candles. I start to make a mental note not to light them in place, on the kitchen table under a paper lantern, but decide that will probably be a no brainer. As the light gets dim I'm reluctant to light the candles. There's something sacrilegious about lighting candles while a forest fire burns just outside, something disrespectful. Like playing with a mouse while a tiger looks throught the window screen.

In the dark the fire is spectacular and wild. There's no way to tell how far away it is, just matte black shadows suggesting that it's not on the nearest hill. It casts orangish shadows inside the house, which suddenly feel very thin and small. I light a whole bunch of candles, put them on the mantle, in the windows, on the counter. The light settles in and fills the room. The fire is just a thing, a painting on all the windows. I think of the women in Pompeii, dusting their amphora, keeping things normal.

Soc is restless. The candles seem to have an opposite effect on him. He calls the Sheriffs office and finds out that De Luz road is open. "Even the wooden bridge?" I ask incredulously. "She says no closings at all." We have been seeing cars going toward town, their taillights disappearing around the curves. "What do you think about going to town to get a generator?" While I'm weighing the thought the phone rings, Len & Julie are watching the news. 14,000 homes are without power in San Diego County. They offer to bring down their generator down to run our refrigerator and freezer for a while. I call Home Depot in Temecula - they have 2 generators left. "Are you the lady who just called?" the salesman asks. He says he'll hold one for us.

The trip back down DeLuz is nearly as horrible as it was coming in. Everything has burned. We stop behind a SUV at a pullout above a canyon. The ground is black, punctuated with orange streaks that look like lava. The smoke burns our eyes. We drive on past trunks of trees, pointed and hollow. Inside, the fire flows and pulses yellow-orange-red behind black cracks in the coals. We pass a fence. The top of each post has it's own small flame. There are no trees at Sandia Creek; the wooden bridge is half coned off. I wonder if the big horned owl has escaped.

As we get near town a German Shepherd is wandering in the road, tail and head down, fur sooty. Soc won't hear of stopping, I'm not sure what we would do if we did, and at least nobody’s driving fast tonight. Home Depot is all a buzz with word of the fire. When people realize why we're getting the generator we become momentary celebrities. Everyone has a fire story they want to tell us. God, this is just like pregnancy.

I'm finishing a filet o' fish when Soc mentions that we need to stop for gas and I remember the gas cap. Of course there's no place to get a new one at this hour, so we decide to just fill the tank part way and get gas for the generator. De Luz is now closed, but the cop takes one look at our faces and the truck and waves us through. As we get closer to the house we find why they closed the road. The fire is raging again, burning branches and fallen boulders mar the road. At the crest of one hill, we see 20 to 30 foot high flames on the bank above us.

From up on the hill the fire looks much the same. Soc hooks up the generator to the TV in the bedroom. I let myself be reassured by the way the firefighters saved the farm earlier in the day. The fire is last thing I see on Headline News before falling asleep. Soc spends the night on the living room couch, watching the fire, protecting his family. I wake up at 6am when the TV goes off. Soc's moving the power from the TV to the house circuits to make coffee. "How's the fire?" "Still there, it seems to be doing fine".

White smoke has settled in the valleys like fog. Fire trucks and tractors cluster on the hills. As I watch, the smoke darkens in one area and suddenly flames shoot up. It's just across the road from us, just behind a farm where a Mexican family grows flowers and hangs velour picture rugs on the clothesline for days.

In the five miles between here and town the fire seems mostly out. Thin smoke trails drift like ghosts across the valley. The sun catches a wide metallic "S" 3/4 of the way to town. I point it out to Soc - Sandia Creek, stripped of vegetation. By 3 PM the wind has died down and the smoke is white. There are about 50 fire trucks and half a dozen tractors gathered in a clearing on the marine base. They stay through the night. In the morning we see helicopters still dumping water on the hills in front of our house. It seems mostly out at this time.

Not a minute too soon for us. The winds have picked up again, and now they are blowing onshore.