My phone buzzed about 4 p.m. Monday with a Twitter update from Cal Fire about the Cuesta Fire. My stomach dropped when I read it: the south side of Santa Margarita was being evacuated.
I've lived on the north side of town for nearly two years, but how long would it be, I wondered as I drove up the grade toward the huge plume of smoke, until we were evacuated as well? How close was the fire?
I had just recently helped out on coverage of the Park Hill Road fire, talking to a few worried residents who had come to an evacuation center at Santa Margarita Elementary seeking information about their homes.
I now fully understood their anxiety.
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For the next few hours, my husband and I alternated between packing, checking news updates, and talking to neighbors, most of whom packed a few things but stayed at home. When the wind shifted at one point, smoke cleared and we could see flames licking the hillside on the other side of town.
We also tried to keep a little normalcy for our daughter -- dinner, storytime, bedtime -- who had no idea what was going on and just seemed excited that the TV was on for several hours.
Around 9:30 p.m., when Cal Fire said the fire was about 1/4 mile from town and would hit if firefighters' effort failed, we started packing our cars, thinking: surely we'll be evacuated soon. My husband rode his bike around Santa Margarita, coming back to report that the flames looked awfully close to town.
We spent a few more nervous hours waiting, looking outside anytime a car drove by, but never received word to leave. So we stayed put. We received several offers from friends to stay at their homes -- thank you all. I now understand why people don't want to leave until absolutely necessary.
About 5:30 a.m., we learned that the fire had grown but firefighters' efforts to keep it from town were successful. For that, we are incredibly thankful.