“Why were the fire hydrants not used? Why was I in my house for an hour and no one came to evacuate me from the fire? Why is there not more than one access road down the mountain? Why could we not get back up the mountain after the fire?” These were just a few questions asked by the local residents who were victims of the Silver Fire in Banning California on August 7, 2013, at a meeting for fire victims in Beaumont, CA weeks later. The residents (myself, husband and daughter included) lost homes in the fire that burned over 20,000 acres and 100 total structures. The response from the city at the meeting went something like this, “We understand your concerns...We had all our resources on it...We did what we could...If you leave an email and your questions in the back before you leave we will answer your questions”. Residents, including myself, of the unincorporated Twin Pines and Poppet Flats area near Banning who were at the meeting became hot under the collar as we were fed nonsense to answer the burning questions we had.
As of today it has been 6 weeks since the Silver Fire burned 33 homes to the ground. In that time I have had a chance to cross paths with neighbors and other residents in the area. One of our neighbors, who I interviewed at the scene of their loss, can be seen and heard on the following video http://youtu.be/daklvFIgkHs . In my off camera interview she states, “I was at work and something in my gut told me to leave. I raced home and from the 10 (Interstate Freeway) I could see the fire. My kids were up there. No one from the fire department or police called me but my daughter called and told me she smelled smoke and asked what should she do. At that time I was almost home.”
Another neighbor told me, “I was laying in bed taking a nap. I had a dream about the fireplace and smelling smoke. I woke up and it was the fire. We started to leave and we ran to a house down the road to get an 80 year old man on oxygen evacuated. I called 911 and they told me to “hold in place” or something like that. Then I heard a lady in the background ask the dispatcher why she said that...her response was “that is what they are telling us to tell people.” That is when I said screw it I am going for it. We had 2 vehicles and we almost got trapped. We sat at the entrance of Twin Pines waiting for the fire to clear. After a few minutes someone told us if we were going to go down the mountain do it now. Go fast, don’t stop, and go. On the way down it was so smokey and it was hard to see, but we made it.”
In my case my daughter and I were down in Banning watching a movie. We were suppose to head to her Karate class in Lake Elsinore after the movie and I looked up the mountain and said we got to go up. At that time I turned my cell phone back on (it was off because we were in a movie) and my hubby had called and sent me a message of Facebook for me to get up the mountain "NOW". On my way up there were fire trucks and cops all over. When I got home my hubby was gathering things to throw in the car. We grabbed cameras that were in cases, computers, and I grabbed a garbage bag and whatever was on the table I threw in. My daughter grabbed a few things and we loaded up 4 dogs into a trailer and left. As we were leaving the cop at the entrance of Twin Pines asked where were we going and I simply said down (the mountain) and he said good because they were starting mandatory evacuations. We got to the bottom of the mountain around 3:45 PM and we hung out at a Starbucks by Wal Mart in Beaumont, CA, nearly 15 miles from our home. We looked up at the black smoke and fires burning on the mountain for several hours in disbelief. Next we went to dinner at Zen Thai & Japanese in Banning around 8:30 PM and asked to have the sports coverage on their tv turned to Channel 9 News who we knew were covering the fire. When the 9:00 PM news came on we first saw a helicopter shot of our neighbors house burning and then the camera panned to ours, fully engulfed. The footage was from earlier in the day and we knew at that point our house was gone.
At that point residents of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines, and Cabazon either made it down the mountain or were trapped and crossing fingers. The reason people were getting trapped in the Twin Pines area is that there is only 1 exit out (Highway 243) for residents of Twin Pines. Once that is shut off you have no exit. Residents of Twin Pines could not go South (the Idyllwild route) because Poppet Flats was blazing out of control (that is where the fire originated) and the fire was also crossing Highway 243 North of Twin Pines.
In short, many people lost everything and are left dealing with their loss and added frustration of bureaucratic red tape. Many were not insured and many had no idea that the fire was coming. The answers from the fire departments and city officials was, to sum them all up, was “We are sorry for your loss and inconvenience.”
As stated, the loss of property was just part of the madness that residents and victims of the Silver Fire endured. Trying get back up to where you lived was nothing but red tape. The news said residents should go to the evacuation center at Hemet High School on Saturday August 10th to get passes needed to enter the area affected by the Silver Fire, but when we got there at 10:30 AM on Saturday August 10th, the evacuation center was closed and we were told to go to a Riverside County Sherriff's station nearby. They had nothing to do with getting us up the mountain. The man was very nice but it was 2 hours of wasted time. From there we were told to go to the the entrance to Poppet Flats. This was 5 hours later in our day and I was too emotionally drained to deal with it, so we did not get a pass until the next day. On that day we had to go the long way around, a 1.5 hour detour, to get down off the mountain. The police at the top of the mountain and the bottom did not communicate and no one in charge knew anything. We were allowed to drive up the mountain, but not down. It was frustrating not only dealing with the loss of everything, but the nonsense to boot. When we finally got to the house we saw our neighbors, the same ones who saw their homes burn on tv like us. The fire department was talking to them and giving them lip service on why the fire hydrant, that was installed by the fire department to protect our properties, in case of a fire, was not touched. We also had fire trucks driving up and down the dirt road spraying water. Why we wondered? The response was "so no hot spots would start more fires burning." So we asked, why was the fire department here now spraying fire on the ashes, but did not spray our homes before or during the time of the fire? We knew they made no attempt to save our homes from the news footage that we saw, none of which showed any fire trucks or firemen near our homes. Again, we are left with many unanswered questions.
For us, we are lucky and blessed. We have had the music community and friends rally to us within a day of the fire. We have a guitarist friend who is endorsed by Tregan. He spoke to Tregan less than 12 hours after he heard about the Silver Fire taking our home and they donated a guitar and bass to our daughter. She is a musician who plays bass and guitar and lost 4 guitars and 1 bass, plus all of her amps and related gear. From there it snowballed. The same friend spoke with Guitar Center in San Bernardino and Lester and Bruce stepped up and donated a bass amp and tuner... and it kept snowballing. We left with nothing but the clothes on our backs. The second night after the fire our friend Carrie got us clothes, and other household items, and much needed emotional support. From there people in the music world have been donating their time and talent and doing shows to help us. Huge thanks to School of Rock, Rod Hefington and Hefington Martial Arts, The Marriot Residence Inn (Corona CA) Gig Boss, Lisa Sunshine, Bombastic Entertainment, Harley Helstrum, Teri Bonds, Dewey Weather, and members of over 50 bands. Because of them we have clothes to wear and household items for our new home. Since we have gotten more donations than we could possibly need so we are passing on items that we cannot use or that are too small to other families who were victims of the fire.