14-Dec-2007 -- The area surrounding the 33N 117W confluence was burned by the Witch Creek fire on October 22, 2007. This fire ultimately consumed 310 sq. miles (803 sq. km) and destroyed 911 homes, 30 commercial buildings and 239 automobiles. It also killed two people who were found in the ruins of their home less than a mile (1.6 km) from this confluence.
An estimated 500,000 people were evacuated during this fire, my family among them. The four of us (and one dog) left Poway at 5 am that morning and went 12 miles (19 km) west to the coastal city of Del Mar. Just 16 hours later the fire was threatening Del Mar and we had to evacuate again, this time south to San Diego. My 83-year-old father was also evacuated in a school bus from his senior home to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
A similar fire swept San Diego County 4 years ago, and poor communication was singled out as a key problem. Since that time, a unified radio system has been put in place allowing emergency responders from the state, county and cities to speak to one another. Additionally, a “reverse 911” system was implemented, allowing officials to place telephone calls to thousands of residents at once, telling them to evacuate.
In order to see the fire damage around Lake Poway, I wanted to approach the confluence from the northwest as Ross Finlayson did last year. However, the city closed this area to public use while they did extensive erosion control work on the hills surrounding this lake, which is a drinking water reservoir. The work was completed and this area was reopened on December 13.
My family has been in Poway since 1970, and I have hiked around this lake many times. It was heartbreaking to see the damage along the trails. About the only positive thing that came of this is that bushwhacking is no longer required to get to the confluence because there IS no bush now. I left the Lake Poway trail and walked 0.4 mi (640 m) southeast to the confluence. The confluence property owner’s main house was saved but he lost his guest house (see remaining foundations in South view). Tom McCollum’s (see Notes below) house was also spared. Many others in this part of Poway were not so lucky; see the Google mashup by the San Diego Union Tribune.
Periodic wildfires are a fact of life in San Diego County. If they aren’t started by Mother Nature, a sociopathic arsonist will step up. In addition to improved communications, new housing in the City and County of San Diego is now built with sprinklers in all rooms and garages. And many houses here are now built with stucco eves so no wood is exposed.
To end on a positive note, I saw many plants that were already coming back. It will be interesting to see future visits as they record the rate of this renewal.