California Students Feel Heat of Wildfires

At 2:30 on Monday morning, Sarah M. Poage ’05 awoke to an emergency phone call from her stepfather.

“I may have still been half-asleep but I distinctly remember him saying ‘San Diego is burning to the ground,’” recollects Poage, a native of Tierrasanta, a suburb in inland San Diego County.

In what has been called one of the state’s worst wildfire seasons in history, California has seen 17 fires moving across the state over the past few weeks. Twenty people have died, 2,100 homes have been destroyed, and over half a million acres have burned, according to the latest report from the Associated Press.

Poage’s stepfather called to inform her that he would be evacuating their home with her mother and eight-year-old brother, who is severely disabled.

Her parents fled to a friend’s house, which eventually had to be evacuated, as well.

As Poage’s family traversed San Diego for a place to stay, her brother developed a severe asthmatic reaction to the smoky air and was on the brink of a hospital admission.

“My mom tried to get back in the house to get my brother’s medical equipment, but the firefighters couldn’t allow her to cross the barricades,” said Poage. “I was so concerned about my family, and things only got worse when the Navy deployed my stepdad’s ship on Tuesday and my mom and brother were there alone.”

Poage literally worried herself sick over the situation, suffering a hypoglycemic attack here at Harvard.

The family was finally allowed back into their house on Tuesday, though two houses in their neighborhood had already burned down.

“They still might have to leave again because the fire is officially zero percent contained,” said Poage.

The Cedar Fire in San Diego has already claimed the life of a firefighter and winds from the Pacific have blown the fire inland toward dry piles of timber.

San Diego county sheriff’s officials announced on Tuesday they suspected the Cedar Fire had been started by a hunter who had become lost in the woods and set off a rescue flare.

Governor Davis has estimated that the total cost of putting out the fires and absorbing related expenses will exceed $2 billion.

Even in coastal areas north of San Diego, the repercussions of the fires are being felt by citizens.

“My parents told me the heat is unbearable and when they open the windows, there’s ash everywhere,” said Stephanie H. Lee ’07, whose home is located in Palos Verdes Peninsula.

For all in California, the fires have created a frightening situation, according to students from the state.

“My mom said ‘It’s like a blazing inferno,’” said Poage. “‘It’s as if you’re in hell.’”