This blog is not like most of my posts. Oct 25, 2019, is a day that people will remember for a long time in our town. It might be too soon for this, but here is a short take on a terrifying night that has changed many lives.
Thursday night, a firestorm tore through our small valley, leaving miles of destruction in its wake. The orphanage was saved, and no one can explain how other than the hand of God. I write this with the acidic scent of burnt brush, trees, plastic, and wood in the air. Ash is still in piles and swirls around my living room, blown through any random crack or window seal during the firestorm. As I write this, it’s pre-dawn on Sunday morning, looking out my window at large dark swathes of our town where homes once stood. I still feel the rush of adrenalin as I remember standing with friends and family and watching much of our town burn just 48 hours ago.
All-day on Thursday, we could see smoke in the distance. This is not unusual in Southern California or Baja. Brush fires are common, and most of the time, not much comes of it. As the smoke clouds grew, we were still calm enough that my wife and I went out to dinner with friends. As we were driving back, we got the call that a friend’s ranch was burning about three miles up the canyon from us and needed help with the fire and evacuating the livestock. By the time we got to the ranch, there was a high wall of flames across several hills. The wind was fiercely blowing toward the town and our home. We soon realized there was nothing we could do but convince them to turn the horses loose and get everyone out. As we drove back through the confusion, smoke, and flying embers, I still did not think the orphanage would be at risk (I was either in denial, or I’m an idiot). We figured it would die down, and if it didn’t, we had at least a few hours before it would be anywhere near us, even if it kept its current pace.
As a precaution, the team at our orphanage prepared to evacuate the children. It was amazing to see how well everything moved, the team was incredible lining up the busses and the vans, and preparing everyone (100+ children and adults) to leave if needed. About midnight our team made the call to get out. The children were loaded and were caravanned to a local church far from the flames to spend the night.
Right after the kids were safely offsite, the wind shifted, and the fire swept up and around the orphanage to where my house stood, about a half a mile away. My wife, myself, and a good friend rushed up the hill to our home, stuck behind THE WORLDS SLOWEST fire truck, to save some paperwork and our dog. By the time we got there, flames were on two sides of our property, embers, sparks and burning straw were flying everywhere. I watched as the flames blew across the broad field behind our home faster than anyone could run. As we fled, my last words on the property were to our friend and maintenance guy, Juan. I yelled above the roar of the fire, “GET OUT, why are you still here? It’s not worth it! Get to your wife and kids!” As we drove away through the fire around us, we assumed our home and belongings would soon be gone.
Once back at the evacuated orphanage, a small crew was still there to water down the propane tanks and see what else they could do. Some government officials came through ordering everyone out, but several stayed anyway. As we watched, the flames swept closer. My wife and I drove away, dogs in the car, to a safe position across our valley with a wide view looking back. We stood with friends and adult children we had raised as the flames danced around our homes and blew through our town. Through the smoke, it was impossible to see exactly which houses were burning, but many were bursting into flames, one by one. Many of the palm trees could be seen exploding into flames, showering sparks farther along.
The winds and flames continued to increase, and the safe place where our children were housed at was becoming risky. Flames were only a couple of hundred yards away; the children were moved again to another location. Once again, our team is incredible and did a fantastic job. A few of us started to discuss the next move. There are only two roads out of our town, and for a few hours, both were impassable due to the sweeping flames. From our vantage point on a hill, we could see a solid wall of flames roughly six miles across, from back in our valley to the Baja coast, slowly chewing through our town.
About 4 am, the flames and wind seemed to be slowing down a little bit. About then, a fire truck from outside our area stopped by us, looking lost in the confusion (they didn’t know the maze of dirt roads in our area). I had them follow me in my car across the valley so I could show them where they needed to go. I took that chance to check on the orphanage and our home. Although many buildings had burned all around us, miraculously, the orphanage buildings were still there. The flames continued creeping around the hillsides, but the winds had died down and looked like the bulk of the danger had passed. I drove up the hill to my house and was met by Juan. He had disobeyed my orders and stayed back with a water truck and saved our home, being joined by two friends – I will forever be in their debt.
Later Friday morning, although there were a few hotspots around the orphanage, we felt it was safe enough to move back home. Fires continued to burn in our town for about 24 hours, and while I write this, large fires are burning in several parts of Baja.
In La Mision, many homes burned, but no one died or was even seriously injured. The people of La Mision, and in the surrounding area, have been phenomenal about pitching in with supplies and support wherever needed. Some of our team spent the following day driving a water truck around town, putting out hotspots, and delivering water to those in need. We are currently discussing how best to serve those who have lost so much.
Door of Faith Orphanage only had minimal damage, one campground restroom was burned, and our system of pipes used for water distribution melted, we’ll be trucking in water for a while. We are beyond thankful and amazed we are still here.
The Strong Tower Ministries property in our area was not so fortunate, situated on a high cliff it gives our property breathtaking views, but it also took the brunt of the wind and flames, and our two main buildings are a total loss. We are already discussing re-building. This is a minor setback in the big picture. God is bigger than the buildings. We at Strong Tower Ministries will continue the important work of “Backing the Heroes.”
We are so thankful to our great team, our faithful friends, and to our powerful God for keeping His protecting hand on everyone through the storm.
I never use this blog as fundraising but if you feel so lead, links to Strong Tower Ministries and The Door of Faith Orphanage are below. If you could help offset any fire related expenses or damage, it would be greatly appreciated.