We will not soon forget what happened here in San Marcos starting May 14, 2014 as the Cocos Fire swept through our City. It’s one of those major events that we will refer to for years to come.
As I pulled out of the gates in my own neighborhood off of Echo Lane at 3:30PM that afternoon to drive into San Elijo Hills, I saw the black plumes of smoke. And my heart sank. After a day of following the fires in Carlsbad and Camp Pendleton, it wasn’t hard to quickly understand the threat these flames raging just behind CSUSM represented.
What I didn’t realize is just how fast this threat would consume not only our hills, but our lives.
As I drove into San Elijo Hills and looked back over the hill, I could see why residents there would be terrified. They couldn’t see the source of the flames, but the smoke coming over the hill was ominous.
I instinctively knew it would be best to go back home, so I continued my drive down San Elijo Rd. and back into my neighborhood the back way – driving up Rancho Santa Fe and through the Lake toward Discovery. By the time I reached Craven Rd. – the evacuations had already begun.
I had left home only 30 minutes before and already my neighborhood was a ghost town. A quick check on the City of San Marcos Facebook page confirmed it – mandatory evacuation.
I’ve lived in San Marcos for 20 years, so this wasn’t my first evacuation. The fires back in 1996 when we lived on Goldfinch Way were my first experience of what fires can do to here in San Marcos. Next were the fires that caused the evacuation of our home in San Elijo Hills in 2007. Through each of these experiences, we have learned what we will take with us in an emergency and how to react swiftly without panic.
Even so, on this particular day, I was home alone with only our 2-seater car, which meant, I wouldn’t be taking much beyond the laptops and the dog. My phone was ringing with friends checking in. And texts were pouring in from my family as we confirmed our rendezvous location.
As I pulled out of the driveway, staring at the thick smoke behind our house, I paused for a moment – grateful to know my family was safe and confident we’d return home soon.
On Thursday, after watching dozens of hours of news frenzy and hearing the stats of the fire steadily increase from 400 to 1000+ acres and climbing, after reading hundreds of posts from friends via Facebook, and falling behind on work, it was getting stressful.
I decided to take a drive down San Marcos Blvd to pick up my daughter’s car, which was parked off of Knoll Rd.
And, that’s when it all sank in.
As I stood in the parking lot near Starbucks, I could see the structures standing on the scorched hillside. I watched the helicopters circling overhead as they scooped up water from Lake San Marcos and made their way back to the flames.
The orchestration of the response. The evacuations. The emergency personnel. There was no chaos. Instead of feeling like we were in the midst of an unexpected emergency, it became quite obvious that we were witnessing a response that had been well-planned.
That’s when the gratitude starts to sink in. That’s when you recognize the value of being part of a community. The value of sharing. Knowing our sheriff deputies were guarding our evacuation zones. Knowing our firefighters were skillfully keeping the fire from devouring our neighborhoods. Knowing our City was orchestrating the necessary emergency statuses and external resources.
I personally have a great deal of pride in our City – for so many reasons. Our schools and educational opportunities. Our parks and trails. Our public safety. Our City leadership and staff. And, as devastating as this fire has been, it’s also been a perfect example of why I am so proud to live here.
Not only did we rally through the emergency response, but today, we continue to rally in the after-math. The clean up. The recovery. The response of residents who are raising funds for the families who lost their homes. The thank you notes and posters and gifts pouring into our local fire stations. The way that this disaster has brought us all together has been nothing short of amazing.
We will no doubt learn new lessons through this experience about how to be better prepared for an evacuation, where to go for information, and how to give back. And, the only way to get the most from this experience is to SHARE it with each other.
Here are a few of my favorite lessons, but I’d love to hear directly from you. Leave some of your own comments, thoughts and experiences in the comments below, so we can learn from each other.
Thanks for making San Marcos such a great place to live.
Stuff We All Know (but rarely do):
- Have a plan.
- Talk with your family about where you will meet should you be separated in a disaster.
- Have an emergency kit for each person in your family in an easily accessible place.
- For a list of items to include, click here.
Additional Things to Think About:
- Pets. What’s your plan if you can’t get home to them? What’s your plan if you have to take them with you? What local resources do you have for boarding in an emergency? Are they current with their vaccinations?
- Kids. Pack an activity bag for each of your children – fun things to do when you may not have electricity or when you’re stuck in a hotel room for days.
- Sanity. Make a list of items you will take with you. Put it in the emergency kit so that if you have time to prepare, you can gather those items and not rely on your memory when the stress of an evacuation sets in.
Emergency Information Sources
It’s easy to get caught up in the news frenzy during an emergency – which often only feeds the chaos and your own fear. Throughout the Cocos Fire, these local resources kept me consistently informed so I could remain grounded in facts without the drama.
- The City of San Marcos Website
- The City of San Marcos Facebook Page
- Register for Reverse 9-1-1
- Updates from www.sdcountyemergency.com
How to Say Thank You!
Most people feel a sense of overwhelming gratitude when a disaster is over. How do you give back or say thanks?
- Identify a family in need and rally friends to provide donations and support
- Make a poster or hand-written thank you note to first-responders
- Host a neighborhood gathering and invite local firefighters and sheriff deputies to attend. (Developing a strong sense of community among neighbors is one of the best things you can do for disaster preparedness).
- Commit to preparedness. The more prepared you are for an emergency, the easier it is for our first responders. Make sure you have a defensible space around your home. Establish a neighborhood watch program. Have a comprehensive emergency plan and kit in place. Be prepared to volunteer. Get CPR/First Aid Certified.
- Never forget. Take the time to give respect and gratitude to local firefighters and sheriff deputies even when there is no active disaster – a smile, a thank you, and a silent promise to yourself to be a good citizen to make their lives just a little easier.
Below are some of the photos sent to us from residents throughout San Marcos – before, during, and after the fires.