When Jon Smalldridge went to bed on Saturday night, October 25, 2003, he was aware of the wildfires burning 15 miles away in San Diego. However, he wasn’t aware the fires could spread so quickly. When the flames and smoke woke him just a few hours later, he knew he had to move quickly to survive.
Sadly, many others didn’t quite see the urgency.
The summer months had been unbearably hot…and dry; five long months had passed since any rain had fallen on the parched land. Everyone knew what the telltale signs pointed to: wildfire. And in late October, one of the worst fires in California’s history broke out. The Cedar Fire, as it was later called, raged across Southern California, devouring more than 700,000 acres including several thousand homes.
Smalldridge, a mechanic from Arcadia, had taken his son and a few friends from his church for a “guys’ weekend” at his parents’ home while they were traveling out of state. But the plans for rest and relaxation were scrapped when he was woken by dogs barking in the middle of the night. Looking outside, he saw flames in the front yard.
Immediately, Smalldridge sprung into action. He roused his friends and son and then went knocking on neighbors’ doors in a frantic effort to warn them of the impending danger. Some of the neighbors heeded Smalldridge’s warning and instantly fled the scene. Others hesitated. A few even began packing up TVs and computers trying to save their valuables.
The last thing Smalldridge and his crew saw before driving their pickup truck through a 200-foot-wide wall of flames blocking the road leading out of the neighborhood were people trying to cram possessions into vehicles that would depart too late. “They looked like they were packing for a trip,” recounted Smalldridge. “The ones who listened to me and left the area, lived. The ones who didn’t, died.”
Even though the community was warned for more than a week by television, radio, and emergency workers, bodies were discovered in burned out cars while others were found huddled inside bathroom tubs. In the end, a dozen people lost their lives in the fire, all of them unnecessarily, because they didn’t heed the warnings.
Some situations allow for hesitation: making a move in chess, ordering at a fast food restaurant, or picking out which shoes to wear.
Escaping death isn’t one of them. It demands that we take action immediately.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)