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Firestorm 2007

Editor’s note: The following is a first-person account of the devastating wildfires that ravaged Southern California in late October and are still burning in some locations.

By Glynis Snowden, Glyn-Rae Stables


Sunday, Oct. 21, started the same as any weekend day at Glyn-Rae Stables in charming Lyons Valley in Jamul, Calif. …until about 9am when we got the first gust of a Santa Ana wind that blew over the course of jumps in the arena. It was then that I received a call from Bob asking if the fire in the area was a problem for us. “What fire?” I replied. We live directly in front of Lyons Peak, a rather large mountain by California standards, which was blocking the smoke.


I jumped in the truck and ran up to Four Corners, about a mile from our ranch, where, when I turned the corner, I said to myself, “Oh my!”  (self-edited for a family publication)


There, in front of me, was a rather large fire, the “Harris Fire,” one of many to start in San Diego County on October 21, 2007. Still not thinking it was an immediate threat, I went home and cancelled lessons for the day and got the emergency evacuation kit out just in case, called Bob and told him to come home. I called my sister Robyn to come and help.


Valley fire - 1/4 mile down the road


Then the reverse 911 calls started coming in telling us we were in a mandatory evacuation area. After living in Southern California most of our lives and dealing with big fires, usually on a yearly basis, we did have an evacuation plan, which we implemented, (something I would strongly suggest having). About 6pm on Sunday we evacuated most of the horses to several different places leaving 15 for us to move.


Before I go on with the story, I must take the time to thank all of the people who helped us to this point, especially Frank and Ann Miller who, for the second time in four years, helped us evacuate. They were able to house nine of our horses for us. Debbie Uecker Keough, Mark Phipps and Jeanette Slaughter - words cannot express how much we appreciate your help during the evacuation.


We decided to wait until sunrise, if possible, to give us a little more time to get a few things out of the house. The power went off at 8pm so Bob and I dragged out Old Faithful (the mega generator) so we could have water and electricity. Then we lost the phone service, couldn’t do much there except drive the three miles to a cell service area to call the CDF hotline. The rest of the night was spent getting loaded and driving to Four Corners every hour to find out the fire’s progress from the firefighters stationed there.


On Monday morning we knew we needed to leave, as the fire and smoke were pretty close by now.  The sheriff’s department was insistent at this point, as they were on the property ready to help if needed. So we loaded the rest of the horses the mini, goat; cat and dog up and headed out. It was an eerie drive out of the valley as most everyone was gone. All of the mailboxes were marked with yellow tape to tell emergency people that the house was evacuated already. On the mile drive out, as we passed the old endangered Engelmann Oaks, some which are two thousand years old.  I wondered if they would survive.


Our house - the day we evacuated


We were unaware at this time that most of the places that normally take evacuee animals were already full. On our way up to the Del Mar Fairgrounds we heard they were not taking any more horses! Where to go? After several calls Ann Miller told me that Vessel’s Quarter Horse Stud was opening up for evacuations, so off to Bonsall. Bob and I arrived with our refugees, and the staff at Vessels was just wonderful. They let us use their foaling pens, and Bob was able to park the semi and trailer by the horses.


This was to become home for Bob and “Rusty” (our dog) for the next week. So now in San Diego County with so many fires burning, things started to become a real challenge. We had horses in Bonsall, Escondido, Crest and Lower Jamul, most of which by Monday night were under evacuation orders. At this point we had to choose which area was the safest to move to. (Which I might add is hard to do with no sleep!)  Bob said Vessels was pretty safe even though the fire was about three miles away. There were 1,000 acres of irrigated pasture in front of it, so we moved six horses from Millers (who now had to evacuate themselves) to Vessels. This left three in my trailer, which went with me back to El Cajon (1 ½ hours).  They spent the night in the trailer in the Kohl’s parking lot (what good Morgans!!!)


We watched Mt. San Miguel burn in a huge firestorm; some flames were 200 ft high, coming within one mile of Rancho San Diego and La Mesa. This took out several of San Diego’s local TV stations, as their antennas were on the top. Meanwhile, the Santa Ana winds picked up to 75 miles per hour. The winds to this point had kept all air tankers and helicopters grounded.


After a long night still with no sleep and hearing that the fire had gone through Lyons Valley, Deerhorn Valley and Honey Springs (Four Corners area) I headed up to Japatul where Rick and Janette Slaughter’s ranch became my temporary home. We proceeded to move the horses from lower Jamul and Crest. Each trip from Crest took me past upper Lyons Valley where I could see the smoke from burning houses. Talk about helplessness.


Robyn and I spent the next day moving some of the horses from Vessels to Japatul to make more room for evacuees there. The voluntary evacuation order for Japatul came on Wednesday night so we were on the move again, helping move 15 of Janette’s horses back to lower Jamul where the fire had already burned through. This left 15 in Japatul for me to move at the last minute if needed. Thank goodness it wasn’t necessary.  Feed became a problem as the winds shut down trucking routes.


On Wednesday we got news (from the fire guys) that our ranch had survived, but that news was bittersweet when we also found out that our clients who live in neighboring Deerhorn Valley had lost everything. They themselves were unaware at that time. Sorrowfully we were the ones to have to tell them about their home.


Friends’ house


For the next three days our area became the hot spot area for the Harris fire. It burned through our valley five times. We were told by CDF that on Tuesday night when the fire crested Lyons Peak the flames were 250 ft high and moved like a tornado. It was scary. Again we had to wonder, is our ranch still there? By the grace of God and the brave firefighters, it was still safe.


California Dept of Forestry decided to make our ranch their line in the sand. The fire came to within 100 yards, and we were told that for six days there were no fewer than five trucks and tankers parked in our driveway and front yard. They even broke into the house and took down all of the drapes and blinds and moved the furniture back from the walls making it easier to save the structure if needed. From the bottom of our hearts to all the firefighters, law enforcement and the handful of neighbors who stayed behind, thank you is not enough.


I was able to return briefly on Friday the 26th and an amazing thing happened.  As I walked to the barns I looked east and a full rainbow went from one end of Lyons Valley to the other. I really think this valley is enchanted.




We moved back in on the 27th and started the clean up. AT&T has said that we will be without phone service till December (talk about quiet.) The damage from this fire was devastating. Two hundred thirty homes burned in our area alone. The Harris fire burned over 100,000 acres. The Witch fire burned 200,000 acres. A total of nine fires burned more than 25% of San Diego County that week. Over a half-million people were under evacuation orders (more than Katrina).


We are so lucky to come through all of this with minor losses. All of our horses did well. The goat, dog, cat and mini are fine. Many thanks to my sister Robyn, and to Ginny Burke for all of their help. Thank you as well to Miller Equestrian and clients for their evacuation help, Imagine Farms and Vessels Quarter Horse Stud for our temporary homes.  Bob, Rusty and I are a little tired, but our valley and our oak trees are still here.


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