By: Chris Orlando, Councilmember, City of San Marcos, Written May 16, 2014
The last 48 hours have been difficult for the residents of San Marcos. It has been gut wrenching to see our ridgelines and hillsides, the city’s defining features, completely engulfed by fire, knowing how many homes and families are at risk or displaced. The families that have lost their homes have their community’s deepest sympathies.
But in the last 48 hours, I have also seen and experienced many things that have made me incredibly proud of our city – proud of our firefighters and sheriff’s deputies, proud of our city staff and proud of our community and its residents.
As the fires started in San Marcos, the city’s fire personnel, sheriff’s deputies, and city staff were immediately on top of the situation – even though many of our local resources were deployed to help with other fires in the region. The city’s Emergency Operations Center was open within minutes and preparations for major evacuations were started. This was an event our fire, sheriff and city personnel had planned for extensively.
As the evacuations started, I watched neighbors helping neighbors, making sure everyone knew it was time to leave and had a place to go. Throughout the evacuation, they continued to check on each other and keep each other informed through emails, texts, phones calls and social media.
San Marcos Unified School District opened its facilities to provide a place for those displaced by the fires. At the evacuation center at Mission Hills High School gym, I watched volunteers, many who had been forced by the fires to leave their own homes, stream in with offers of help, and our local businesses send trucks loaded with food and supplies. I talked with seniors who had slept on cots, but were in good spirits, patiently waiting until they could go home. I saw kids who I knew were scared, but who remained calm and brave.
Throughout the event, I interacted with a city staff that was steady, in control and working hard to get their public safety teams the resources they needed, to help those that needed assistance and to get the public current and accurate information – working day and night even though many of them had evacuated with their own families.
Cal State San Marcos, which smoothly evacuated its entire population as the fires approached, provided its campus and personnel to assist the staging effort. There, the morning after the fires started, I shook hands with firefighters, who were exhausted and covered with grime, but couldn’t wait to get back to the fight. I talked with our fire chief, who knew every detail of the battle and was marshaling every resource he could to fight it. The coordination among federal, state, county and local agencies was impressive.
We toured the burn area this afternoon. Seeing Cal State San Marcos and the many homes that were saved surrounded by a moonscape of destruction underscored the heroic efforts of our first responders and those that came from our neighboring cities and jurisdictions to join the fight.
This emergency and the recovery that will follow are far from over, but we will get through this, and be even tougher after.
Cities that have faced devastating events have been described as strong. San Marcos is strong. After watching our firefighters, our sheriff’s deputies, our city staff and our community in action in the last 48 hours, I would add another the word to describe how I feel about our city: Proud.